Archive for the ‘oil spill response’ Category

Details on the Santa Barbara blowout from last year’s BOE post.

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Not uncommon.

A group of more than 7,000 redhead ducks was seen floating at the Mackinac Straits during the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 21, 2022. According to the Straits Area Audubon Society, motorists on the Mackinac Bridge sometimes confuse these large groups of migrating ducks for oil slicks on the water. | Photo by Steve Baker, courtesy Straits Area Audubon Society; mlive.com article

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The National Academies have released Oil in the Sea IV, which updates estimates of oil entering North American seas. This is the third update since the publication of Oil in the Sea in 1985.

The updated inputs and seeps summary tables are pasted below. Some comments:

  • The Oil in the Sea reports are important in that they provide perspective on natural inputs and those associated with man’s activities. The estimates generate informed discussion about the relative significance of the various inputs.
  • The estimate for land-based sources, which far outweigh all other sources, increased dramatically from the previous report.
  • The oil seepage estimate was reduced by 37.5%, owing to methodology.
  • The difference between the itemized seepage total in Table 3.2 (109,000 mta) and the seepage total in Table 3.1 (100,000 mta) is not explained.
  • The authors assume zero oil seepage in the entire US and Canadian Atlantic, and Arctic offshore. This is highly unlikely given the widespread presence of methane seeps in the Atlantic, the numerous oil seeps identified offshore Labrador, and the MMS/BOEM report on Arctic seepage.
  • The estimate for platform spills (excluding Macondo and the MC-20 seepage) was significantly and inexplicably increased from the previous report, and is well above what BSEE data indicate for that period. No data or justification are provided.
  • The statement (p. 58) that “spills occurred more frequently in offshore waters than nearshore waters” is puzzling and unsubstantiated.

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In addition to the settlement with the Dept. of Justice, the pipeline operator has reached settlements with the State and County. In addition to a $4.9 million fine, the company agreed to inspection and leak detection measures similar to those in the Federal settlement.

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My involvement with Ohmsett dates back to the 1970s when EPA operated the facility and I was on the Ohmsett Interagency Technical Committee. The facility fell into disrepair in the late 1980s. Thanks largely to the vision and initiative of my Minerals Management Service (MMS) colleague Ed Tennyson and the enactment of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the MMS began restoring the facility in 1990 and resumed testing activities in 1992. Senator Frank Lautenberg (NJ) and a host of dignitaries participated in the grand reopening event.

The facility has lived up to the hype and the current BSEE leadership team seems committed to continuing the testing and innovation. For more information about testing at Ohmsett, including renewable energy concepts, check their website. For an excellent summary of Ohmsett activities from 1992-97, see this paper.

Among the many companies to test equipment at Ohmsett is one that was partially owned by actor Kevin Costner. See the article and photo below. If you build it (and maintain it), they will come!

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MMS, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Environment Canada were leaders in developing and testing in situ burn spill response capabilities in the 1990’s. Tests at the MMS (now BSEE) Ohmsett facility and at sea offshore Newfoundland demonstrated this important spill response option.

BSEE has continued to advance the MMS spill response research program, and recently announced an exciting enhancement to in situ burn capabilities. BSEE and the Naval Research Laboratory invented a low-emissions atomizer burner designed to cleanly and quickly burn spilled oil, even after oil has been emulsified with water. See the video below.

The atomizer works by converting a stream of liquid, in this case, neat or emulsified crude oil, into a fine spray. The combustible spray is then able to completely burn without the plume of black smoke or residue, leaving the area safer for people, wildlife, and the environment. The burner interfaces with off-the-shelf pumps and air compressor equipment, so the collected fuel can be pumped to the burner. It can be mounted on a floating platform to stand freely in the water and has been successfully tested on waves.


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