Oil spills happen.
Typically without warning, whether on land or at sea.
How fast and effectively the involved parties and others respond to these sometimes potentially disastrous events can make all the difference.
Should such an event occur in the challenging Arctic region with its ordinarily frigid temperatures and widely pervasive, mobile ice sheets, it’s essential to be prepared with the right technology and adequately trained response teams.
Yes, operators could pass this one by and focus their E&P efforts in friendlier, less risky environments.
But explorationists are not easily put off, and the Arctic is considered to be the last frontier in the big oil hunt. It’s said to hold a magnificent prize of billions of barrels of technically recoverable oil and great quantities of natural gas.
Frontiers, however, represent the unknown – and the hostile Arctic likely more so than any other.
Significant preparation with regard to oil spills is crucial to harvesting hydrocarbons there in this pristine region.
The Arctic Oil Spill Technology-Joint Industry Program (JIP) is an endeavor focused on the need to be at the ready, when and if a spill occurs.
The JIP was established in January 2012, with the goal to raise awareness of existing industry oil spill response capabilities in the Arctic and to further enhance industry knowledge and capabilities in the realm of oil spill response.
“This JIP has brought together the world’s foremost experts on oilfield response research, development and operations from across industry, academia and independent research centers to undertake the technical work and scientific studies,” said AAPG member Joseph Mullin, JIP program manager.
“This (program) is conducting oil spill response research projects over a four-year period,” he noted – and for a good reason.
“This,” he said, “is to advance the application and understanding of dispersant effectiveness, environmental effects, trajectory modeling, remote sensing, mechanical recovery and in-situ burning (ISB) in Arctic and ice-prone regions.”
The plan is to launch 24 reports by 2015, encompassing all of these research areas.
And the work is well under way. Six of these reports covering ISB, dispersants and remote sensing have been completed.
Mullin outlined the key findings to date:
- Dispersants can work in the Arctic and, under certain circumstances, will be more effective with ice present than in open water.
- Besides increased effectiveness, the presence of ice can increase the time window in which dispersants can be used effectively.
- Technology exists to conduct controlled ISB of oil spilled in a wide variety of ice conditions, and ISB is one of the response techniques with the highest potential for oil spill removal in Arctic conditions.
- There is significant scientific and engineering knowledge on ISB to ensure safe and effective response in open water, broken pack ice and complete ice cover. This knowledge was acquired from more than 40 years of research, including large-scale field experiments.
- Most of the perceived risks associated with burning oil are mitigated easily by following approved procedures, using trained personnel and maintaining appropriate separation distances.
- The current state of technology in remote sensing confirms the industry has a range of airborne and surface imaging systems utilized via helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, vessels and drilling platforms that have been developed and tested for the “oil on open water scenario” that can be used for ice conditions.
Mullin noted that research efforts currently under way include oil spill trajectory modeling and technology feasibility studies, laboratory and meso-scale dispersant effectiveness tank testing, assessments of surface/subsea remote sensing technologies, and field research with chemical herders to improve ISB.
He emphasized the JIP builds on the progress the industry has made during many decades of R&D in the realm of oil spill response in the Arctic and cold weather conditions.
“Through (our) initial research,” Mullin said, “we have reaffirmed our confidence in the techniques that the industry and its partners have developed during that long span of research and development to respond to oil spills in ice.”