The leak in the Gulf is different from many other famous oil spills. Tanker catastrophes like the Exxon Valdez crash dump oil mostly at the top of the ocean. This time, a large quantity of oil is being spilled deep under the waves.

The IXTOC disaster in 1979, which was also in the Gulf of Mexico, also involved a large underwater oil spill. According to Jerome Milligram, a containment dome was used to control the IXTOC spill, as it was in the 2010 leak. In that spill the containment dome, or cap, was successful, although there were issues because of nowhere to place the oil and water which was captured, such as a ship.

Dispersants are used above and beneath the surface of the ocean, to break up the oil. The dispersants do include their own toxicity and environmental dangers, so the decision to use them involves a tradeoff. The Deepwater Horizon response team does not have complete information about the consistency of layers of oil underneath the
ocean, as this spill is deep underwater. This makes any cleanup effort and effort to shut down the spill very difficult.

It is difficult to monitor a sudden disaster, so Canada has come up with a unique solution. Canadian researchers are planning to spill oil in the Arctic to test monitoring and cleanup methods, according to Canada East. This should provide useful data, although the Nunavut Inuit are not happy with the oil spill plans. This project will also test a different type of dispersal method that scatters clay instead of the chemical dispersants which are causing concern in the Gulf of Mexico.