The U.S. Department of Interior's Minerals Management Service requiresoffshore operators to include a plan for the use of chemical dispersants in Gulf of Mexico Regional Oil Spill Response Plans. This paper will address howand why the effective use of dispersants requires pre-planning and integrationof a number of different systems and areas of expertise.
The proper use of dispersants can preclude widespread environmental damageresulting from the shoreline impact of an oil spill. When and whereappropriate, dispersants may be the most viable response option available tothe offshore operator. However, the window of opportunity in which dispersantsare effective can be short-lived. Pre-planning is critical to ensure dispersantoperations are implemented in a timely and cost effective manner.
Less than 10 years ago the use of dispersants was not widely accepted by theregulatory community. However, the oil & gas and marine transportationindustries operating in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) have worked closely with stateand federal agencies to become the leaders in the development of dispersants asa primary response tool. While the successful use of dispersants in GOM Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil spills over the past few years has validated theirplace as an effective response tool, improper use or poorly applied dispersantscould reverse the acceptance of this valuable response tool.
When an oil spill occurs, there are a number of response technologies thatcan be deployed. The three primary "tools in the toolbox" are mechanicalrecovery (utilizing boom and skimmers), chemical dispersants, and in-situburning. The success of each of these response options is highly dependent upontwo primary factors: the type and behavior of the oil spilled, and the level oflogistics preparedness necessary to support the response.