Consensus Report

The Use of Dispersants in Marine Oil Spill Response (2019)


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The decision to use dispersants on any given oil spill requires careful comparison of its health and environmental impacts compared to other available response options, including mechanical recovery, in situ burning and leaving the spill untreated. Based on an evaluation of domestic and international research and results of field and laboratory studies, this report concludes that dispersant application in some circumstances can be a useful tool in oil spill response.

During a major oil-spill response, dispersants may be used to reduce the amount of oil on the water's surface for the health and safety of responders. Also, this treatment can lessen the extent of surface oil encountered by marine species and reduce the fouling of valuable shoreline habitats by surface oil that is blown ashore.

Every oil spill presents unique circumstances and challenges, the report says. In evaluating trade-offs and making choices about dispersants and other response options, decision-makers should use Net Environmental Benefit Analysis (NEBA) tools to assess the comparative environmental benefits and drawbacks of various options. With further development, the NEBA process could be used to estimate human health and socioeconomic impacts of various response options as well.