NRL discovered that certain surface films applied around oil spilled on water could compress the oil into a much smaller area and maintain the oil in a thick layer, thereby enhancing the efficiency of oil-recovery operations.

Image of NRL laboratory experiment

NRL laboratory experiment to demonstrate the use of monomolecular films to control petroleum spills. Once the oil pollution is confined and condensed by the piston film, it is more easily and completely removed by any oil recovery technique. The first successful demonstration of these films occurred in 1970.

In 1970, NRL demonstrated the first successful containment of an oil spill at sea by using a monomolecular surface film. On Environmental Protection Day, June 27, 1972, NRL demonstrated the film at the U.S. Naval Academy before high-ranking attendees representing the navies of 33 nations. The keynote speaker for Environmental Protection Day was Jacques Cousteau who, as an advocate of maintaining the cleanliness of the world's oceans, expressed great interest in the NRL oil-control demonstration. Following approval from the Environmental Protection Agency, the method was incorporated into Navy pollution control programs for harbors and bays. It has also been used in commercial training for oil spill control. The oil spill control technique has reduced the damage to property, the fishing industry, and the environment.