Who Is Responsible For An Oil Spill?

Wednesday 11th October 2023

Ellen Warren

No comments, yet!

Man in PPE cleaning an oil spill with absorbent materials


Oil spills are a life-threatening hazard for marine and land life alike. The consequences of oil spills and who takes on the responsibility to restore affected areas are rarely considered. These can include the difficulties of legal implications and insurance companies' roles in restoration efforts.

Our team at ICE Cleaning are experienced in oil spill cleaning services, utilising advanced technology to effectively drain various oil forms from both hard and liquid surfaces. We can neutralise oil spills involving gasoline, diesel, and hydraulic oil, and more.

Read on to learn more about oil spills and who is responsible for cleaning them up.

What is an oil spill?

An oil spill is a form of pollution that occurs when oil is released accidentally into the environment. This can happen due to human activities, like offshore drilling or a leaking oil tank.

Oil can spread rapidly over surfaces, creating a thin layer known as an oil slick. If not contained swiftly and properly, this has severe implications for local life and our ecosystems.

While it is tempting to try and help fix such disasters ourselves, dealing with them requires professional knowledge and expertise. This is because oil spills are hazardous substances that require specialist handling.

The dangers of DIY oil spill clean-up

Oil spills require specific skills and equipment, which most people don't have. However, attempting a DIY clean-up could lead to more harm than good. You might unintentionally spread the oil further or risk your health by exposure to toxic substances found in oil.

This triggers a cataclysmic situation where the environmental impact escalates drastically, so it is best left to professionals to minimise environmental damage and personal safety.

The professional approach to an oil spill clean-up

Cleaning up oil spills calls for professionals with specialist skills and equipment to handle such incidents safely and effectively. 

A professional will start by assessing the spill's extent and then employ suitable cleaning methods involving skimmers, absorbent materials or bioremediation techniques using microorganisms that eat away at the oil.

Alongside physical cleaning, these experts also focus on minimising environmental harm. They monitor air quality during operations and work closely with ecologists to protect sensitive habitats from further damage.

Determining responsibility for oil spills

When it comes to oil spills, whether they occur from large corporations, businesses, or homeowners with private oil tanks, determining responsibility is a critical aspect of managing the environmental and financial aftermath.

Large oil corporations, shipping companies, and oil drilling operations are commonly associated with major oil spills. In such cases, responsibility often falls on the corporation or entity that owns, operates, or is responsible for the oil-producing or transporting infrastructure.

Smaller businesses that use oil for various purposes, such as heating or machinery operations, may also be responsible for oil spills. These could range from factories and construction companies to farms and restaurants with grease traps. 

Some homeowners rely on domestic oil tanks for heating and hot water, and responsibility for oil spills primarily falls on the homeowner.

Local regulations often dictate proper installation, maintenance, and safety measures for these tanks. Homeowners must ensure that their tanks are in good condition and promptly address leaks or spills.

Insurance coverage plays a crucial role in determining responsibility for oil spills. Companies, businesses, and homeowners may have insurance policies that cover oil-related accidents.

In such cases, insurance providers may bear the financial burden of the spill and later seek compensation from the responsible party, depending on the policy terms.

Environmental impact of oil spills

Oil spills can have destructive consequences for the environment. It suffocates marine life and disrupts delicate ecosystems, for example, oil on birds' feathers makes flight impossible and affects their ability to regulate temperature.

When a slick of oil interacts with local water systems or wildlife foliage, it can destroy these ecosystems. These areas are often home to diverse wildlife that become victims of this pollution disaster.

Air quality is also affected by these volatile organic compounds released by spilt oil, contributing to air pollution, which impacts both environmental and human health. The effects persist for years, as shown in studies conducted decades after infamous spills like Exxon Valdez or Deepwater Horizon.

Human impact of oil spills

The impact oil spills have on human life is far-reaching and often underreported. Health issues, from skin irritation to more severe respiratory conditions, can be triggered by exposure to spilt oil. 

Studies have shown that clean-up workers are particularly at risk, facing multiple health issues due to prolonged contact. Beyond the immediate health risks, local economies can also be affected.

In ocean incidents, fisheries and tourism industries can suffer devastating losses as beaches become unusable and marine life dies off. For example, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill resulted in an estimated $8.7 billion loss for fisheries alone.

Responding to an oil spill incident

If you spot an oil spill, it is essential to report it immediately. You can contact the 24/7 UK Government environmental hotline for assistance if you are unsure what to do next.

You must prioritise personal safety and keep away from the area to avoid inhaling fumes, as they can be harmful. Never attempt to clean spilt oil yourself, instead contact an oil spill cleaning company to tackle these incidents.

Professional oil spill cleaning services have trained experts equipped with advanced tools and knowledge, ready to handle such situations efficiently while minimising environmental damage.

Frequently asked questions

Who is responsible for the clean-up of an oil spill?

The party that caused the oil spill, usually an oil company or shipping firm, is typically held accountable for the clean-up.

Who should you call first if you have an oil spill?

If there's an immediate danger to people or wildlife from the spill, dial 999. For non-emergencies, report it to your local council.

What is done after an oil spill?

Clean-up operations start swiftly post-spill using techniques like skimming and dispersants. Investigations also kick-off to determine responsibility.

How do you deal with oil spills at work?

You should alert your supervisor immediately, evacuate the area if necessary and follow safety protocols set out by your employer.

Get in touch

Our technicians at ICE Cleaning can effectively contain, clean, and decontaminate an area affected by an oil spill with our oil spill cleaning services. We tackle various spills from personal oil tanks to large industrial spills.

If you want to learn more about our industrial cleaning services, you can reach out at 0208 066 0360 or enquiries@icecleaning.co.uk. We offer emergency cleaning services in situations as dangerous as oil spills, where we can be on-site within a few hours of your first call. 

Zoe Dunning

Zoe Dunning

Sales Representative

Add to contacts

Speak with me today,
I’m here to help

By asking you a few questions either via phone or email I can immediately provide a realistic estimation of the cost.

You’re in good company. We’ve cleaned for the following commercial clients… View all

Customer reviews

Our happy customers have rated our service as
Excellent on Trustpilot.

View All Reviews

Why choose us

Why choose us?

  • Cater to a wide variety of cleaning situations
  • Nationwide coverage, available 24/7
  • Cater to commercial and domestic clients
  • Free survey provided prior to quotation 
  • Emergency response team
  • Offer a bespoke service designed to suit all your needs 
  • All technicians hold professional health and safety qualifications, including BICSc, IOSH, Dewpoint Professional & Safe Contractor 

We’re fully accredited

We place best practise, professional expertise and health and safety at the core of our business. We’re fully compliant with all legal obligations. You can view a list of our accreditations below, or visit our Health & Safety page for more information.

Dewpoint® Professional Corporate Membership
0208 066 0360Open 24/7

We use cookies

If you continue without changing your settings we'll assume you're happy to receive our cookies.
If you'd like to change this just update your browser settings. Find out more.

Okay. I got it.