- evaluate tools for their effectiveness in solving a problem.
- compare advantages and disadvantages of multiple solutions to a set problem.
- learn some of the reasons why oil spills are so disastrous.
Spill it and clean it! Students will observe the effects of a simulated oil spill on land, water, and wildlife. In groups, students will then test different materials and tools used to clean up oil spills and evaluate them for their effectiveness.
Discuss with the students:
Discuss findings as a class:
It is hard to separate oil and water, so clean up processes can take a long time and a lot of effort. Oil sticks to fur and feathers and is hard to remove, which is why animals are affected during oil spills. The string can contain the oil to an area, but cannot clean it up.Different materials absorb the oil at different rates.
It is unrealistic to altogether stop using petroleum, but we can reduce usage, use safer transport methods, and engineer ways to more effectively clean oil spills. There are also some newer ideas being studied to clean up oil spills.
The distribution of energy resources such as petroleum can have negative environmental consequences. Distribution occurs both before refinement (such as raw ore or crude oil) and after conversion (such as fuel oil.) For example, oil is transported to refineries, where it is converted to gasoline and other substances, which are then distributed as well.
Petroleum is vital to our society because of its role as an energy fuel. There are many advantages of petroleum such as (Conserve Energy Future, n.d.):
Oil spills occur when a liquid petroleum is released into the environment, and is most common in marine areas. Most oil spills are very small – we never even hear about them. Large oil spills occur much less frequently, but can be absolutely destructive to the ecosystems in several ways.
The main source of damage is the oil itself, as it covers the surface of water and nearby land (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, 2014). Spilled oil coats everything including birds’ feathers, grains of sand, tree roots, and more. For birds, the oil on their feathers can prevent them from flying and can disrupt their natural waterproofing and insulation which regulates their temperature (West, 2014). Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) covered in oil may have trouble breathing as their blowholes are covered or oil seeps into their lungs (New England Aquarium, 2014). Ingestion and absorption of oil sickens both plants and animals in the area. After a spill, some of the oil eventually begins to sink into the deeper water. This damages underwater ecosystems and contaminates the fish and smaller organisms that are essential links in the global food chain (West, 2014).
The cleanup operations can also cause damage to ecosystems (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, 2014). Containment and cleanup methods can remove water, plant life, and sand from shores near the spill. Chemicals used to break down the oil can have harmful effects on wildlife and the health of response teams.
Finally, the disposal of oil collected during cleanup activities has lasting effects on the environment. The oil must be reused or disposed of properly, using such methods as incineration or burying in a landfill (Environmental Protection Agency, 2014).
Oil Spill Response Techniques
Cleaning up oil spills is complicated because no two spills are alike. The type of oil (whether crude or refined), type of water, and environmental conditions affect tools and procedures for cleanup (Smithsonian Ocean Portal, 2014). Cleanup teams respond to spills using one or more of the following methods:
Notable Oil Spills
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is considered the worst oil spill in U.S. history. In April 2010, The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sunk in the Gulf of Mexico. A pipe from the rig was leaking oil and gas on the ocean floor off the coast of Louisiana. By the time the well was capped on July 15, 2010 (87 days later), an estimated 4.9 million barrels (over 200 gallons) of oil had leaked into the Gulf (Smithsonian Ocean Portal, 2014). As the oil left the well, it spread throughout the water. Some floated to the ocean's surface to form oil slicks. As much as 20 percent of the spilled oil sank to the sea floor. This can damage sea corals and deep water ecosystems (Smithsonian Ocean Portal, 2014).
In November 2007, a container ship hit the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and spilled 58,000 gallons of oil, resulting in beach closures and dead and injured wildlife including seabirds and fish. Scientists said it could affect the wildlife for years to come (Chea, 2007).
Science and Engineering Practices
Disciplinary Core Ideas
Related Performance Expectations
A partial list of products made from Petroleum (144 of 6000 items) (n.d.) Retrieved on December 2, 2015.
Gulf Oil Spill (n.d.) Retrieved on November 25, 2014, from Smithsonian Ocean Portal.
Gulf Oil Spill: Effects on Wildlife and Habitats (n.d.) Retrieved on November 25, 2014 from New England Aquarium.
How Oil Harms Animals and Plants in Marine Environments (n.d.) Retrieved on November 25, 2014 from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.
Levitt, Tom (2012, September 21). Cleaning up oil spills with magnets and nanotechnology. CNN Tech. Retrieved December 2014.
Oil Spill Response Techniques (n.d.) Retrieved on November 25, 2014, from Environmental Protection Agency.
Spill Containment Methods (n.d.) Retrieved on November 25, 2014 from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.
West, L (n.d.) How Do Oil Spills Damage the Environment? Retrieved on November 25, 2014.
Advantages of Fossil Fuels. (n.d.) Retrieved on May 14, 2015 from Conserve Energy Future.