Oil Pollution in the Marine Environment- Part II

by Beyza Koçak

Causes of Oil Pollution

Oil pollution is caused by a growing global population, a rise in requisition for oil and petroleum-based items, and so, oil spills and inappropriate discharge of industrial waste contaminating the environment. Oil spills are frequently caused by unintentional discharges of oil during the processing and transportation of oil. As a result, the marine, soil, and both aquatic and terrestrial environment are polluted. Huge amounts of oil and its byproducts are released into the environment by pipelines, warehousing facilities, drilling, incorrect waste disposal, leaching from landfill, near-shore and offshore investigation, and many other sources (Li et al., 2016). It is also caused by cleaning processes in machines and equipment and facilities, additives in ships, out-of-date chemicals, and accidents/spills throughout transportation events (Helmy et al., 2015). According to Enache and Zăgan (2009), shipping is one of the most significant sources of oil pollution. Furthermore, oil pollution is caused by accidents such as collisions, grounding, hull failures, fires, and explosions, and forms a serious threat to the marine environment. In the research conducted by İsmail and Karim in 2013, they examined the main causes of these accidents and according to their results in Figure 1, it is understood that navigation errors, storms and hurricanes, mechanical -maintenance weakness, and engine setbacks are all major causes of oil spills.

Figure 1. Frequency of Basic Events (Ismail and Karim, 2013)

Clean Up of Oil Pollution

The faster the oil spill response, the better the chance of averting contamination (Helmy et al., 2015). The major goals of an oil spill response are to contain the leak and prevent it from spreading. Some approaches, techniques, technology or equipment can be used to fulfil these purposes. Examples of mechanical spill cleanup equipment such as scrapers, booms, dispersants, barriers and sorbents are. Controlled in-situ burning is an example of response tactics (Li et al.,2016).

Booms are mechanical barriers designed to keep crude oil from flowing over natural resources. They are particularly beneficial in terms of controlling an oil spill and simplifying cleanup processes. Scrapers are mechanical devices that gather and transfer oil off the surface of the water without altering its physical or chemical qualities. Scrapers are usually used in conjunction with booms. These two mechanical methods should be the first method to consider to clean up an oil spill (Dilek, 2022). Sorbents are substances which absorb oil from water. In situ burning is a leak remediation method that involves the managed combustion of oil at or around the spill area. Dispersants, like emulsifiers, are chemical spill-cleaning agents that speed up the breakdown of oil into small droplets that “disperse” in water. Bioremediation requires the addition of nutrients (biostimulation) as well as a microbial population to accelerate bioaugmentation, that is, the biodegradation of fat Figure 2 (Okeke et al., 2022).

Oil spill biostimulation is one method of achieving bioremediation by introducing growth-bounding nutrients, ‘nitrogen, and phosphorus’ to a maritime oil leak. Oil-degrading microorganisms are used in bioaugmentation to remediate oil spills in the marine ecosystem (Okeke et al., 2022). Bacteria, plants, fungus, and algae are frequently used (Luo et al., 2021). Bioremediation is a more environmentally friendly alternative to physicochemical techniques since it is less expensive and has lesser ecological consequences (Okeke et al., 2022).

Figure 2. An Illustration Of Marine Oil Spill Microbial Remediation (Okeke et al., 2022)

Dispersants work best when used quickly after a spill before the lightest hydrocarbon constituents fly away, and their effectiveness is influenced by marine water salinity, temperature, and wave act. Given the toxicity of disperse constituents, including microorganisms, the next scientific aim in oil spill cleanup is to substitute chemical agents with non-toxic biosurfactants (Mapelli et al.,2017). Biosurfactants are surface-active chemical substances generated by microorganisms. Surfactants promote pollutant solubility and removal while also aiding biodegradation by increasing pollutant bioavailability. Because of their biodegradability, poor toxicity, and minimal environmental effect, these compounds are getting favoured (Okeke et al.,2022). All clean-up methods are shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Methods for Clean-up of Oil Spill (Mapelli et al., 2017)

In addition to clean-up methods, there are various ways for monitoring oil spills. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are one such way. A recent study has demonstrated that UAVs can provide a useful, low-cost method of oil spill monitoring. UAV systems, particularly in emergency response practices that demand fast decision-making, can offer a wide range of detection via autonomous systems as well as data presentation. To understand the data collected from UAVs in terms of coastal management, some image processing techniques and multipurpose computer programs are required. One of these various applications is Marine Environment Simulators (MES) (Bayırhan & Gazioğlu, 2020). An example of these simulator programs is GNOME which is a modelling tool that predicts the likely path or trajectory of a contaminant in or over a body of water, such as an oil spill (QR & R, 2022).

Figure 4. A Simulation Image Obtained from the GNOME Program (Koçak, 2022)

Another example of a simulator program is ADIOS (Automatic Data Query for Oil Spills). An NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) oil weathering model is an oil spill response program that replicates the chemical and physical alterations of various types of oil air in the maritime environment. Its goal is to help decision-makers establish cleaning procedures based on forecasts of how long spilled oil would remain in the environment (QR & R, 2022). Environmental consultancy companies can use these programs in our country while preparing Emergency Response Action Plans.


Because petroleum is an essential energy source, it is generated and used at a higher rate than ever before, raising the danger of a spill. Concerns about the dangers presented by oil spills have grown throughout the world due to the major negative and long-term consequences on the marine environment and, ultimately, human health, as well as difficulties in spill prevention, management, and recovery. In addition to health problems, major economic collapses can be experienced as a result of these events. For this purpose, information is given about the causes of oil pollution, its effects and the techniques and tools used to clean and prevent it. Technological programs are used not only after this pollution occurs, but also to prevent it from happening and to make the fastest interventions.

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