Effective oil spill containment
Mar 03 2021
It’s fair to say that oil and water have a complicated relationship. While they famously don’t mix, it’s also true that when there are no intervention measures in place, oil will usually find a way to reach water.
When it does, it’s incredibly problematic from an environmental perspective. Whether as the result of an accidental spill or deliberate, malicious activity, oil entering waterways and filtering through to the watercourse causes widespread damage. Just one litre of oil – a relatively small amount – has the potential to contaminate as much as 1 million litres of water.
The wildfowl, mammals, fish and plants in the immediate area are the obvious casualties of these avoidable scenarios, but there is a human impact too: water sources may no longer be suitable for irrigation purposes while oil-related complications in the treatment process may lead to water becoming unfit to drink.
Spill containment is, therefore, a crucial consideration for any site holding oil. Under the 2001 oil storage regulations in England, with similar rules applying in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – there is clear guidance for oil to be secured within secondary containment with a capacity that is equal to, or more than, 10% of the oil being held for fixed tanks, mobile bowsers, intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) and other single containers, and 25% for drums. Anyone found to be non-compliant risks a minimum of a four-figure fine.
In our view, adherence to environmental requirements should be a cultural, conscious and consideration decision rather than a box-ticking exercise for fear of retribution. For oil spill containment to be truly effective, it must be factored into a broader view of pollution prevention, and even a Business Continuity Plan. One that fits with the realities of day-to-day life in fast-moving businesses that are increasingly under pressure to adapt to changing market demands.
Thought needs to be given, for example, to the volume of liquids kept on site. This can fluctuate according to external market triggers, but it remains essential that a proportionate level of spill containment measures are in place. At Darcy, we have recently seen clients extend the amount of bulk liquids they hold, either to protect themselves against potential distribution issues caused by Brexit or to meet heightened demand for certain products triggered by the pandemic. With the appropriate flexibility built into their spill containment set-up, these changing levels can be safely and agilely accommodated without disruption to the business or significant additional expense.
Indeed, there are a variety of spill trays and sump pallets designed to fulfil the requirements for secondary containment, with Darcy Group’s British-made range of products capable of managing volumes from 20 litres up to 1,100 litres in a wide variety of different oil storage situations.
Movement is a key factor to consider. It is not uncommon for oil storage containers to be moved into new positions on site, whether on a temporary or permanent basis. This scenario requires flexible spill-containment options to be in place to provide continued compliance with oil storage regulations and prevent contaminants from causing environmental harm.
Darcy’s Trident Drive-in Tribund, for example, is a ‘pop-up’ bunding system that is suitable for securing vehicles such as forklifts that are loading and unloading liquids. Extremely portable, it is simply unrolled into place without the requirement for additional supports.
Transportation and movement of tanks or bowsers might present an obvious spill-risk and so can be planned for, but less predictable situations can demand a swift response. Facilities managers can ensure they are fully prepared for such an event by equipping themselves with flexible spill containment options, such as bundstrips. Made of crush-resistant foam and covered with a highly visible yellow PVC outer cover, these durable, cost-effective products can be deployed quickly, allowing for waste liquids to be contained and then removed and disposed of at a later point using products and services that are relevant to the liquid in question.
In summary, spills are not a simple risk to manage – they are unpredictable in their timing and scale, and they typically require a range of products and approaches when they occur. Investing in secondary containment may provide essential compliance with oil storage regulations, but it is only by adopting a more comprehensive approach to spill management that site owners will have the flexibility to fully protect themselves - and their local environment - from the potential damage that occurs when oil and water mix.
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