Dealing with oil spills in UK
Oil spills can be extremely damaging to sensitive marine environments. Where environmental resources, human health or property are at risk, a range of products and equipment are available to minimise the impact of the oil.
The turbulent nature of UK waters means it is rarely possible to recover the spilled oil. However, treatment products work with the wave action by mixing the product with the oil and encouraging it to disperse.
Oil spill treatment products
If you want to use an oil spill treatment product, you will need to get approval from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO). For more information, see the page in this guide on MMO approval to use oil spill treatment products.
Use in the sea in any area with a depth of less than 20 metres, or within 1 mile of any such area also requires specific permission. The only exception being if permission is preapproved in a contingency plan. Find information on contingency planning on the MMO website – Opens in a new window.
Treatment products include:
- dispersants – chemicals which, when applied to oil floating on the surface of the sea, greatly increase the rate of dispersal and therefore breakdown of the oil
- surface cleaners – chemicals which, when applied to oil-covered hard surfaces, increase the rate of dispersal from the surface, aiding cleaning
- bioremediation products – these contain, or enhance the growth of, oil-degrading bacteria
- loose sorbents – usually in the form of powder, granules or beads which absorb oil
- degreasers – products used for cleaning grease from machinery of ships and marine structures
Equipment that may be used to control, contain or recover oil without approval or permission includes:
- Booms – barriers that sit on the surface of the water and block the movement of floating pollution, protecting certain areas, and making mechanical recovery of pollutants such as oil much more effective. Booms work best in calm conditions where oil and water do not splash over or move under the boom.
- Skimmers – machines that separate liquids or matter from the surface of a water body.
- Sorbent mats or pads – bags containing absorbent products, usually in the form of granules or beads, which are porous and allow water and pollution in without allowing the product to escape.
For advice on marine pollution, contact the MMO Marine Pollution Response Team on Tel 0191 376 2666 or email them at email@example.com.
MMO approval to use oil spill treatment products
If a request to use an oil spill treatment product is made within English or Welsh waters, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) will give a formal response within one hour. To ensure a rapid response, they have trained responders available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Other organisations that are consulted in marine pollution incidents include:
MMO district offices – these provide information on marine and fishery activities in the local area the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science – this advises on the likely impact of the pollution
- Natural England or Countryside Council for Wales – these provide advice on whether the local area is environmentally protected or sensitive (in cases where the pollution is within 12 nautical miles of land)
- the Joint Nature Conservation Committee – this advises on whether the local area is environmentally protected or sensitive (in cases where the pollution is more than 12 nautical miles of land)
- the Food Standards Agency – this advises on nearby fisheries that may be affected, and can take action to prevent contamination
You can contact the Marine Pollution Response Team by writing to the following address:
Marine Pollution Response Team
PO Box 1275
Newcastle upon Tyne
You can also call the MMO Marine Pollution Response Team on Tel 0191 376 2666 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To report marine pollution incidents, you can contact:
MMO Marine Pollution Incidents Line (office hours) on Tel 0870 758 1050
MMO Marine Pollution Incidents Line (out of office hours) on Tel 07770 977 825
Defra Duty Room Helpline (Out of Hours) on Tel 020 7270 8960 (at all other times if other numbers are out of order)
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