You don't have to think hard to imagine why cleaning up an oil spill would be daunting — millions of gallons of oil floating in miles of ocean waters, dispersed by waves, weather and wildlife. Just looking at the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico shows not just how difficult the challenge is, but how woefully uninnovative our cleanup efforts are. Of the more than 200 million gallons of oil that was unleashed during the spill, only approximately six million gallons were recovered from the Gulf. The cleanup effort relied on methods that were either ineffective — such as booms, which are barriers placed in the water to collect and absorb the oil — or dangerous — such as the use of Corexit, a chemical that was used to break up the oil that, it turns out, is much more toxic the environment than the oil itself.
The good news is that oil gathers in plumes, and one scientist is working on a way to remove those plumes from the water more efficiently. His secret? Magnets. If the process he demonstrates in this video can be scaled up, it would mean that when the next spill happens, oil could be pulled from the water efficiently and safely, with no toxic harm to wildlife, and that the oil and water could both be reused.
Sounds too good to be true? Or could this change the way we clean up oil? Considering how oil is transported around the globe, chances are it won't be too long before we have to find out.
Video by Motherboard.