A suite of technologies for oil spill response in cold conditions and ice has been tested and developed as part of this programme, and two large-scale field experiments have been carried out. They have provided a significant dataset (32 scientific reports), leading to new knowledge, tools and technologies for responding to oil spills in ice.
Because of changes in oil's properties after being released into a marine environment, the possibility of using various oil spill countermeasures - such as mechanical recovery, dispersants, in situ burning and monitoring/surveillance techniques - changes considerably with time and is influenced by the prevailing environmental conditions (e.g. visibility, light and weather). The main focus has been on odentifying when various oil spill countermeasure can be used (time window for use) based on different oil qualities, weathering characteristics and ice conditions.
Existing tools (e.g. chemical herders, fire resistant booms, remote sensing systems) and technologies developed through this programme (e.g. mechanical oil recovery systems and dispersant application systems) have been tested in different environmental scenarios. Key findings from the programme are that all response techniques showed merit in responding to an oil spill in an Arctic environment. Having all response options available is considered to be the key to a successful oil spill response operation under Arctic conditions.
In addition, the time window for use of in situ burning and the use of dispersants in ice-covered waters can increase significantly compared with an open water scenario because of the presence of cold water and ice (ice limits the spread of oil, slowing down the weathering process).
We have played an active part in the development of an integrated oil spill response and management system that provides real-time information on the volume and relative thickness of an oil spill, thereby maximising recovery efforts. Its integration enables the operator to strengthen tactical collaboration and information-sharing on board vessels and onshore. It is also fully operational in darkness.
Operated from a vessel, this system uses a combination of an infrared camera and a newly developed radar system to monitor and collect information from an oil spill. By measuring temperature differences, the tool can distinguish between thicker and thinner parts of the slick. Clean-up efforts can thereby be concentrated on the most effective points for preventing environmental harm. The system is fully operational and has been implemented on several vessels operating on the Norwegian continental shelf, including the Barents Sea. In addition, industry players in Brazil and Denmark have also purchased this system for use in oil spill detection and monitoring.
We aim to continue to improve our knowledge about oil spill response and are playing an active part in the start-up of a joint industry effort to further strengthen oil spill technology in Arctic conditions (initiated in early 2011). The selection of a particular oil spill response technique should be the result of an analysis in which the environmental risks and benefits of using a certain response technique are evaluated against the risks and benefits of leaving oil unrecovered. In this connection, several research and development activities are ongoing and others are about to be initiated to document the effects of dispersant use in different environmental conditions (e.g. Arctic, coastal and deepwater scenarios).