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How to clean up an oil spill

Ever since the Deepwater Horizon began spewing 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico, British Petroleum, the Coast Guard and local fisherman have been experimenting with various methods to keep it under control.

Need to Know was curious about how well these would work. So we re-created our own oil spill and attempted to clean it up.

This experiment was created by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

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  • Jack D.

    …Looking for something interesting and informative to watch while eating lunch at my desk, I clicked on this “How to Clean up an Oil Spill” video. I weep for PBS. This is the show that is taking over Bill Moyer’s Journal slot, and “NOW”? This is strictly 4th grade level stuff. To dumb-down the issues of a monumental oil spill to this level not only fails to inform, it dis-informs (who sponsors this show, anyway?)

    For the producers of this piece: The “dispersal” activity demonstrated in your video shows only the effect of detergent molecules spreading across the surface tension of the water. There is no “clean-up” effect happening here (note the oil is just pushed to the side). Secondly, detergents are emulsifiers–that is they form a bridge between a water molecule and an oil molecule, thus allowing the oil to “mix” with the water. Again, no clean-up is really happening…the problem is simply shifted from a water-surface/tidal-zone mess, to an inter-zonal polluted water mess–not to mention the pollution effects of the detergents themselves.

    With such simplistic “solutions” promulgated by trusted information sources, such as PBS, the effects of the problems actually presented by the spill are made less important. And when the scope of damage is thus “diminished”, so is the scope of responsibility the public will expect of industry and policy makers. I really do hope this program can step it up a bit, and not promote these kinds of hopelessly, even dangerously, uninformed views.

  • Julian


  • Gina Laurel Salta

    this was a dumb response to such a serious problem . . .

  • Alex E.

    Cool and informative! I don’t get the outrage below – people DO realize this is helping to clarify the science that goes into something serious, right? Open your minds!

  • tere

    You caught my attention to get a solution… That’s why my sister did so good on her Master’s thesis about the relationship between the tittle and the article…( video this time.) Besides that it was informative.

  • pat chang

    why isn’t there a state of emergency concerning oil spill. why hasn’t the admin. demanded that
    bp, haliburton, tran ocean, etc. appear at the white house and show how they plan to contain oil spill … why hasn’t research on paul getty oil wildcatter in OK. tulsa , in his autobio. talked about oil gushers/stopper – cemetery using monument to plug oil well…..

    when are they going to do something.. all we hear about is green green solar, nuclear, wind..
    here we have emergency… our gov. is incompetent , corrupt, shameful .. paralyzed by contributions from corporations, including our senate, house, and president.. shameful inept, and corrupt…



  • Jerome Potts

    Boy, that was dumb. I’m with JackD and Gina Salta above. Or i’m the one who is dumb and i failed to see something valuable. The one thing which amused me, though, is how the detergent pushes it all to the “shore”. And you forgot the bacteria test.

  • Jerome Potts

    Oh, and i forgot : it’s “BP”, not “British Petroleum”. See (thanks, Wikipedia !)