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Using dispersants to control oil spills has been highly controversial since the 1967 Torrey Canyon spill. Since that time many spill responders have viewed dispersants only as a “last resort” option. Dispersant use is most effective in the early stages of an oil spill, yet most response plans call for dispersant use decisions to be made only after a spill occurs. These decisions require, at a minimum, hours, and may require days. Recently, there have been efforts to shorten this decision-making process. Two of these are discussed in detail. A multidisciplinary, multiagency task force under the auspices of ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) developed ecologically based guidelines for dispersant use in marine environments. The guidelines for 13 different marine and coastal habitat types consider dispersant use both to protect and to clean the habitat. They also identify those habitats that are the highest priority to receive protection in the event of a spill. The other project was developed by an American Petroleum Institute (API) task force and contractor with input from federal and state government agencies. It is a site-specific method for planning in advance where to use or not use dispersants in marine environments. It involves dividing an offshore region into “dispersant use zones” based on ecological considerations. This method was applied to selected areas offshore southern California as a test.
dispersants, oil spills, spill response planning, spill clean up, ASTM, API
Manager, Environmental Sciences, ARCO, Los Angeles, CA