Worldwide interest in the petroleum potential of the Arctic seas has triggered a corresponding focus on the practicalities of responding to an oil spill, were disaster to strike an offshore oil operation. As part of the ramped-up interest in how to deal with an Arctic spill, a joint industry program coordinated by Norwegian research company SINTEF is engaged in a series of research projects covering most aspects of offshore Arctic spill response. The program’s objective is continuing development of tools and technologies for oil spill response in the Arctic and ice-infested waters.
AGIP KCO, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Shell, Total, BP and Statoil are participating in the program with the expectation that its outcome will improve industry’s ability to protect Arctic environments from oil spills resulting from petroleum exploration, development, production and transportation.
Research results should also help decision making by responsible authorities, SINTEF program documents said.
The program consists of eight project areas, being carried out over a four-year period ending in 2009. They are designed to address key oil spill response issues and scenarios that program participants might have to deal with:
• The fate and behavior of oil spilled in Arctic conditions;
• The in-situ burning of oil in Arctic and ice-infested waters;
• The mechanical recovery of oil in Arctic and ice-infested waters;
• The use of chemical dispersants in Arctic and ice-infested waters;
• Monitoring and remote sensing of oil in or under ice;
• The preparation of a generic oil spill contingency plan;
• Field experiments at Svalbard, Norway, and in offshore ice-infested waters; and
• Program coordination, management, communication and publishing.
Initiated in Halifax“The program was initiated after a meeting in Halifax (Nova Scotia) where SINTEF and the oil companies agreed to initiate a state-of-the-art study,” program coordinator Stein Sørstrøm told Petroleum News Sept. 13. “This resulted in a request from the companies to work out a plan for how to develop oil spill technology, strategies and knowledge for Arctic and ice covered waters.”
A plan for the program was presented at a workshop in Oslo in April 2006 and the program got under way in September 2006, Sørstrøm said. In addition to industry participants, there are a large number of potential collaborators, including the U.S. Minerals Management Service, Alaska Clean Seas and the Oil Spill Recovery Institute in Cordova. About five people from relevant organizations will ensure that the results of each project include the most up-to-date knowledge, Sørstrøm said.
A major part of the joint industry program consists of adapting existing systems for icy conditions. Equipment vendors have also been developing new concepts for recovering oil from ice-laden water and these concepts will be further tested, Sørstrøm said. In addition to research into the mechanical recovery of oil, the program includes testing of in-situ burning and the use of dispersants, Sørstrøm said.
“The first year has focused on laboratory tests of skimmers, dispersants and burning tests,” Sørstrøm said. “We have also carried out a long-term field experiment at Svalbard studying the weathering properties (of crude oil) as well as a window of opportunity for in-situ burning. Further we have carried out preliminary tests of some remote sensing and oil detecting systems.”
Sørstrøm said that most skimmers have been designed for open-water conditions, rather than for use in ice-laden water.
“Our tests so far have, however, proved that some of these systems may be developed further for operations in ice,” Sørstrøm said.
Adapting and developing systems
Because an oil spill response typically requires a combination of different techniques, the joint industry program is also investigating strategies and tactics for the Arctic, Sørstrøm said. A generic oil spill contingency plan developed in the program will accommodate a range of ice regimes encountered in the circum-polar area of interest.
The program holds two workshops per year, alternating between venues on the European and American continents. These workshops provide program participants with progress updates and also provide an opportunity to discuss oil spill response challenges in the regions where the workshops are held.
The first of these workshops was held in Svalbard in April 2007 and the second will be held in Anchorage on Oct. 15, following the Oct. 10 to 11 International Oil and Ice Workshop (some talks about the joint industry program have been scheduled as part of the international workshop).