After initially declining, U.S. Government officials have decided to accept an offer from the Dutch government to send four large oil skimmers to the site of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Oil skimmers are large arms that can be used by oil tankers to pump oil and water from the ocean surface into the tankers. The oil then rises to the top, while the water sinks to the bottom. The water is then pumped back out to sea, making space for more oil. Each system can collect 5,000 tons of oil each day.
Unlike the US, the Dutch have developed effective rapid response systems for oil spills. The Dutch skimming system has been used successfully in a number of smaller spills in Europe.
The Dutch first offered to fly their skimmer arm systems to the Gulf just a few days after the oil spill started. However, the offer was declined by EPA officials, who cited restrictions agains pumping any water with oil in it into the ocean (no matter how much oil was removed, no matter the overall environmental gain, in the process). No system can keep all the oily water in the ship.
One ton of oil is equal to approximately 7.3 barrels, so 5,000 tons a day is about 36,500 barrels per day. Collectively, the four skimmers can take up to 146,000 barrels per day.
The Netherlands-based Royal Dutch Shell is one of the largest global energy companies. Unlike the US, the Dutch have invested time and money developing state of the art rapid response systems for oil spills. The Dutch system has been used successfully in smaller European spills.
Dutch government officials in the Netherlands first offered to deliver their skimmer arm systems to the spill site just three days after the oil spill began. The story is the subject of an article by Yobie Benjamin for the Chronicle.
At the time, says Benjamin, U.S. officials rejected the offer because EPA regulations prohibit the discharge of water that contains oil into the ocean. He points out that by initially rejecting the Dutch offer, US officials missed an opportunity to collect much more oil and possibly to mitigate the damage.