Team:UTDallas/Project Introduction


Project Overview Introduction References


Petroleum, a nonrenewable resource valuable as a fuel source, plays a pivotal role in the economies and environments of countries. The United States as one of the top oil-producing nations in the world participates in the production and refining of crude oil. However, over one quarter of the United States’ crude oil is produced offshore in the Gulf of Mexico bringing up hazards to the marine environment. With the recent news of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill occurring in the Gulf of Mexico, the issue of safe and effective cleanup of the oil comes into greater concern. Oil spills, usually resulting from tanker spills, penetrate the surface of sea water as well as decreasing fauna populations affecting the food chain of marine ecosystems. [1]

Crude oil consists of many different types of hydrocarbons including alkanes, cycloalkanes, and aromatic compounds. The alkanes (CnH2n+2), either straight or branched, consist of a chain of carbons and hydrogen molecules, while cycloalkanes (CnH2n) are composed of carbon rings and hydrogen molecules, and aromatic compounds are hydrocarbons consisting of benzene rings. [2] Crude oil is immiscible with water and is lighter than water, causing it to float on top of the water surface. Based on the crude oil’s specific gravity, the ratio of the weight of equal volumes of oil and pure water, it is categorized into types such as tar sands, heavy oils, and light oils. [1]

Past oil spills such as the Gulf War Oil Spill occurring in the Persian Gulf reveal the truly detrimental and potentially long-term impacts of oil spills in aquatic environments. The oil spill which began in January of 1991 has been found to contain truly significant long term effects on the environment. The lack of shoreline cleanup caused a large amount of oil sediment remaining even 12 years after the spill, and the oil penetrated so deeply that it cannot be retrieved now. A method to detect the presence of oil even after visible oil is removed from an area is necessary to aid the recovery of oil-affected ecosystems.

The Exxon Valdez spill occurring near Prince William Sound, Alaska resulted in unprecedented damage to the fragile Arctic ecosystem and a large portion of the oil from the massive oil spill of the Exxon Valdez in 1989 remained retained in the land. However, the oil spill occurring in Prince William Sound revealed not only the potentially deleterious effects of a large oil spill on the aquatic environment, but the harmful effects of large, cleanup machinery. [3] When oil reaches the shoreline, some components of the oil evaporate leaving behind the heavier components of oil. In rocky shores, the heavier components will convert into tar and will eventually be washed away through wave action; in marsh areas, however, the oil can sink down below the surface and remain for years. Low energy environments such as marshes are the highest risk areas because the marsh areas are the most vulnerable to the effects of oil. [4]