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

Wenck enhances the quality of life for our clients and communities by unlocking and protecting the world’s most essential needs – air, water, natural resources, and infrastructure.

By combining our technical expertise with innovation, collaboration, and a strategic vision, we transform concepts into meaningful results that make a lasting difference. From helping cities maintain infrastructure to simplifying supply chains and reducing the carbon footprint of Fortune 500 companies, the work we do is critical to every facet of daily life.

We have a multi-disciplinary team known for working hand-in-hand with in-house experts to produce efficient, effective outcomes for all. We are problem solvers above all else, dedicated to helping you excel in any environment.


Wenck Contact

Jason Coyle

Resource Group Manager - Response/Associate