Arctic Spill Response Heats Up

By Joseph Mullin
Friday, June 21, 2013

Nine oil and gas companies commit to advancing Arctic oil spill response.

The oil and gas industry has made significant advances in being able to detect, contain and clean up spills in arctic environments. To further build on existing research and improve the technologies and methodologies for arctic oil spill response, the oil and gas industry established the Joint Industry Program on Arctic Oil Spill Response Technology (JIP).
According to the US Geological Survey, the Arctic holds 13% of the world’s undiscovered petroleum and 30% of its undiscovered natural gas. Of these resources, an estimated 84% lie offshore. As attention turns to the Arctic as an important source of oil and natural gas, the industry is taking proactive steps to develop modern tools and technology to ensure effective solutions are available to handle a potential spill. The region presents unique challenges and it is important to continue to establish best practices for exploration and production. Responding to an oil spill is challenging under any circumstance, but arctic conditions require additional environmental considerations.

Launch of the Joint Industry Program
The JIP officially launched in January 2012 at the Arctic Frontiers Conference in Tromsø, Norway.  The JIP consists of nine international oil &gas companies – BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ENI, ExxonMobil, North Caspian Operating Company (NCOC), Shell, Statoil and Total – making it the largest pan-industry program dedicated to this area of research and development. The program is coordinated by an Executive Steering Committee comprised of representatives from each company. The International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP) is providing project management expertise and a number of industry experts/scientific institutions are being engaged to perform the scientific research.  Aimed at creating international research programs to further enhance industry knowledge and capabilities in the area of Arctic oil spill response, the JIP is looking at all aspects of oil spill preparedness, oil spill behavior and options for oil spill response in the Arctic marine environment to minimize any impact.
Industry research over the past two decades includes hundreds of studies, laboratory and basin experiments and field trials conducted in the US, Canada and Scandinavia. The large-scale, comprehensive study by the Norwegian research institute, SINTEF, in 2009 is a noteworthy recent example. Over the course of its four-year mandate, the JIP will develop new capability in the following six areas:

  • Dispersants   
  • Trajectory Modeling
  • Mechanical Recovery   
  • Environmental Effects
  • Remote Sensing   
  • In-Situ Burning (ISB)

Research Particulars
The projects in progress range from dispersant effectiveness testing, modeling the fate of dispersed oil in ice, assessing the environmental effects of an arctic oil spill, advancing oil spill modeling trajectory capabilities in ice, extending the capability to detect and map oil in darkness, low visibility, in and under ice, improving efficiency of mechanical recovery equipment in ice, to detailing the large body of knowledge that already exists on ISB, and expanding the ‘window of opportunity’ for ISB response operations. 
Each investigation covers a large range of possible scenarios, taking into account a wide array of factors from differing oil types, wave types and ice coverage to varying environmental situations. The projects involve a combination of experimental study, synthesis of existing data leading to improved practice, and development of improved operational methods for response. The JIP will also explore opportunities to conduct field experiments to verify research results.
Expert technical working groups for reach project area are populated by the top researchers from each of the member companies. A majority of the working groups have already begun their research and will be looking to share results as early as the summer of 2013. 
As an industry, oil companies do recognize that oil spill response is not a competitive aspect of business and furthermore, they collectively believe that working together gives stakeholders access to a wider range of technical expertise and experience, allowing all players to be more effective. This is an exciting and ambitious research program, with significant resources committed to projects involving a high level of collaboration. In that spirit, the JIP members are committed to disseminating the results as widely as possible to informed audiences.
Key results will be published in peer-reviewed journals, and will also be developed materials for the benefit of wider audiences interested in Arctic oil spill response. These audiences could include NGOs, policymakers and members of the environmental community.

In Situ Burning in Ice-Affected Waters
As interest in arctic oil exploration and production continues to increase, the oil & gas industry wishes to ensure that in-situ burning (ISB) is available when needed. This requires that ISB becomes incorporated into contingency planning and that response organizations have the necessary resources and training to effectively and safely carry out those operations, when and if necessary. The JIP believes that in order to raise awareness of the benefits associated with ISB, there is an urgent need to better communicate the state of knowledge surrounding this response option to external stakeholders. The project’s overall goal is to understand the degree to which ISB can be used in Arctic conditions, to raise awareness of ISB as a primary response technique, and to prepare materials that support oil and gas industry advocacy efforts to educate and aid acceptance of ISB by industry, regulatory, and other external stakeholders.
The controlled in-situ burning (ISB) of an oil slick as a response technology is well established, having been researched since the late 1950s. Burning has proved effective for oil spills in ice conditions and has been used successfully to remove oil from spills in ice-affected waters from storage tank, and ship accidents in Alaska, Canada and Scandinavia since the 1970s. During the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon (Macondo) response ISB was successfully employed with 411 operations safely conducted. 
One of the first research deliverables will be the publication of a highly technical foundation report which will summarize the role, function, and benefits of in situ burning ISB as a primary response option in Arctic and ice-affected waters, and is intended for researchers, specialists and informed stakeholders. This report, “In Situ Burning in Ice-Affected Waters: State of Knowledge” is due for completion in the Spring of 2013 with the results being published in June at the AMOP Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The ISB research team will also publish a Technology Summary report that summarizes key scientific studies and experiments, case studies and previous research efforts on the use of ISB in arctic environments, both offshore and onshore. This summary report highlights findings and conclusions, and important references. The ISB research team will utilize this report to identify research opportunities to improve efficiency and extend the window of opportunity for the use of ISB in Arctic environments. Both reports will be available to the public when completed. We are confident that the results from the research projects will further industry knowledge and understanding of oil spills the Arctic environments, enabling oil & gas companies to effectively prepare for and respond to a worst case scenario should it occur.
www.arcticresponsetechnology.org

 

(As published in the 2Q edition of Maritime Professional - www.maritimeprofessional.com)

 

 

  • Joseph Mullin, program manager for the Arctic Oil Spill Response Technology

    Joseph Mullin, program manager for the Arctic Oil Spill Response Technology

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