Copyright (c) 2012 University of California, Hastings College of the Law
West-Northwest Journal of Environmental Law & Policy
ARTICLE: Responding to the Response: Reforming the Legal Framework for Dispersant Use in Oil Spill Response Efforts in the Wake of Deepwater Horizon
West Northwest Journal of Environmental Law & Policy
18 Hastings W.-N.W. J. Env. L. & Pol'y 63
Abby J. Queale*
One of the oil spill response methods approved by the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") is the use of dispersants. Dispersants are chemicals that physically break apart oil slicks into smaller oil droplets so that the oil can be easily broken down. 1 These chemicals, however, vary in effectiveness and toxicity. Although there has been much research into the effects of dispersants and the development of less toxic variants, there is no scientific or environmental consensus on whether or not dispersant use is a viable or environmentally sustainable method of responding to an oil spill. This paper examines the historical use of dispersants in oil spill responses, the controversy behind their use, and the legal framework that provides for their use. Finally, a new legal framework is proposed in light of the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
II. The Science behind Dispersants
A. Why Use Dispersants in an Oil Spill Response?
There is no consensus on the best way to clean up an oil spill. According to the law of conservation of mass, matter can neither be created nor destroyed. It can, however, be rearranged in the confines of a closed system. When an oil spill occurs on the surface of the ocean inside the closed system of the Earth and its atmosphere, the oil simply has to go somewhere. The questions researchers are trying to answer are where should the oil go and in what form.
It is well known ...
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