How Response Time Changes Oil Spill Clean-up Methods

Wenck team cleaning up an oil spill


The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90) was passed in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. This law forms part of US oil spill governance to mitigate and prevent civil liability from oil spills. OPA 90 requires companies to develop and maintain plans to help prevent spills and detailed plans to contain and respond to spills that may occur.

The US Coast Guard established the Oil Spill Removal Organization (OSRO) in response to regulatory requirements of OPA 90. OSRO is a voluntary program and was developed to assist oil-handling facilities and vessels prepare spill response plans. OSRO classification information, including personnel and equipment staging locations, can be found by visiting the US Coast Guard website.

Wenck is a certified Oil Spill Removal Organization. Our Response team completed the stringent classification process requirements, including Coast Guard evaluation, to meet standards associated with response tasks so you don’t have to. Given our extensive OSRO training, environmental engineering experience with lakes, rivers, and watershed districts, as well as our on-land environmental expertise, Wenck can provide safe, effective, and comprehensive response solutions for your spill. We also help organizations develop and maintain Facility Response Plans (FRP) for spill prevention, containment, and response under OPA 90. Our services include:

  • Incident response & recovery
  • Incident prevention & preparedness planning
  • Multi-condition on-facility training & education

Oil Spill Clean-up Methods

When an oil spill occurs, the oil forms a thin slick that floats on the water. As the oil spreads, it thins out, provided the source of the leak has been stopped and will eventually become a sheen. The speed in which a cleanup crew, or OSRO, can reach a spill, along with other factors (tide/current, impacted shoreline, weather, etc.), determines what method(s) the OSRO may use to perform the cleanup.

Wenck team preparing to clean up an oil spill

When an oil spill is reached quickly, it is easiest to clean up by one of the following methods. Oil spill cleanup is generally a very dirty, hazardous, and environmentally threatening process.

  1. When oil is contained or near a shoreline it can also be collected using sorbents. Sorbents are usually made of synthetic material that is hydrophobic (water repelling) and olephillic (oil absorbent). These sorbets come in the form of pads, sheets, long tubes (socks or ‘boom’) or OSRO’s can use snare or pom-poms. Snare is shredded polypropylene tied together and placed in sensitive areas affected by the spill to recover the oil. 
  2. If the OSRO can reach the spill within the first few hours the best method is containment and skimming. Containment booms made of heavy gauge plastic covering foam like material along with a weighted skirt that trails under the water will keep the oil from spreading out. This makes it easier to skim oil from the surface, using portable skimmers or boats that remove the oil, but leave the water behind. The recovered oil is collected in tanks or vacuum trucks and hauled off site for recycling or disposal.

Wenck has strategically placed OSRO equipment in Minneapolis and the Duluth-Superior area for rapid response to industry needs.

About Wenck

Founded in 1985, Wenck operates both nationally and internationally providing holistic environmental, engineering, construction, and response solutions. We are your partner and advocate behind the scenes, with 275+ multidisciplinary technical experts championing all facets of your most essential business interests. With a passion for air, water, waste, land/natural resources, and infrastructure, we utilize our discrete expertise to ensure your organization is operational and thriving.

Wenck believes collaboration leads to innovation, so we engage the right internal experts and leverage strategic alliance partners to drive projects forward. We stay current on the latest technical details, regulations, and movements across all our market areas, managing the risk for you with economic efficiency in mind. And as environmental stewards, we value community and resilient ideals that result in shared success. Let us know how we can help you build a better planet.


Wenck Author

Jason Coyle

Resource Group Manager - Response/Associate