A lot of methods traditionally used to clean oil spills, such as in situ burning and containment, are really dangerous when the spill is in close proximity to coastal settlements, as happened with the BP oil spill.
The best method we have at our disposal is probably the use of biological agents (such as phosphorous and nitrogen) to eat at and absorb the oil, a process which transforms the liquid oil into a thick chemical shell that it is then theoretically possible to easily sift from the remaining water. However, issues of expense and spotty testing (not enough research showing how these agents affect massive ecosystems) make the use of chemical dispersants (BP’s method of choice) seemingly more practical.
When it comes right down to it, the truth is that we don’t really have any good ways to reverse the environmental devastation caused by oil spills because he effects are irreversible; even if we managed to clear out all the oil tomorrow, eco cycles in affected areas will remain sufficiently altered for decades to come.
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