HANOVER, N.H.— In the event of an oil spill in the ocean, such as an oil tanker tipping over, its container getting breached or an oil rig’s pipeline leaking, immediate response for cleanup is needed. However, at times, it can be difficult to determine the best means of effective oil-spill cleanup.
One way of determining what tools, equipment and people are needed to quickly and effectively clean up a spill is measuring the thickness of the oil. With that in mind, the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) is working with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to test new oil slick measuring technology developed by the American University of Beirut inside CRREL’s Frost Effects Research Facility (FERF).
“We’re working with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and the American University of Beirut to develop oil thickness sensors for measuring oil slicks out in the ocean,” said Kathryn Trubac, a CRREL research general engineer. “It’s important to measure the thickness so that you know what type of recovery you need.”
The tests are taking place inside of a wave tank, a large, open-topped container, much like a wave pool from a water-park. The measuring device is placed inside the tank, which is filled with saltwater and oil, and the waves are formed by large automated paddles, recreating waves that the measuring device could encounter if it were used in the ocean.
“Right now we’re using our wave-tank, we have a containment area with a skimmer and all the sensors mounted into the floating platform,” said Trubac. “What we do with that, is we run our whole system under various systems of waves to see how well the sensors work detecting the oil slick when it’s just not stationary.”
Kristi McKinney, a research program manager for BSEE, said CRREL provides essential testing people, facilities and equipment, which other government agencies may not have, adding that CRREL is one of the few laboratories with the necessary licenses for conducting these sorts of oil spill measuring tests.
“CRREL is supporting us because we need the ability to measure these sensors,” said McKinney. “We want to measure in a controlled environment. Then also for our second use case for these sensors, we want to be able to mount them to skimmers and know what that thickness is as it’s recovering oil.”
BSEE has a mission to promote safety, protect the environment and conserve resources offshore through vigorous regulatory oversight and enforcement. The bureau is the lead federal agency charged with improving safety and ensuring environmental protection related to the offshore energy industry, primarily oil and natural gas, and most recently renewable energy, on the U.S. outer continental shelf.
Should the oil-measuring device be proven effective in measuring oil thickness in a variety of austere environments, it could eventually be deployed in the event of an oil spill in the ocean.