Oil Spill Technology Research Continues for Arctic Exploration

“Fiber optic technology has progressed in recent years; however, further research is necessary to advanced fiber optic cables into a system that can be installed and operated on Arctic pipelines,” according to the companies’ research findings.

Finland began developing oil recovery equipment for ice in the early 1980s in response to a 1979 oil spill on Finland’s coast. According to officials with Helsinki-based Aker Arctic Technology, experience has shown that different marine environment conditions need a tailored approach to oil recovery activity, particularly in icy waters.

Despite a number of solutions available, the efficiency of oil recovery still varies greatly, company officials told attendees at the Arctic Technology Conference. They added that they are moving from individual equipment to integrated systems, which could include the construction of vessels for oil recovery missions and vessels with equipment suitable for different conditions.

Finland has a fleet of oil spill recovery vessels, including vessels retrofitted for oil spill response and vessels built for oil spill recovery. The Oblique ice breaker, currently under construction, is one new way of thinking about oil spill vessels. The idea behind the Oblique ice breaker is to use the vessel’s length as a collection boom; the skimmer system is inside the hull in a temperature controlled area.

The next step might be a vessel based on a trimaran concept, where the gap between the hulls could be used for oil collection and the wide deck area used for wider sweeping width. Aker already is developing a trimaran concept; early test results indicate this concept could not only be effective in ice breaking, but oil recovery could take place in the space between the hulls and equipment on deck. The deck also would be large enough to accommodate oil recovery equipment for different purposes, allowing the vessel to serve as a moving oil recovery base, Aker officials said.

Other possible solutions being studied include airborne, high search rate spectral fluorescence/reflectance lidar (SF/RL) that could potentially detect and geolocate oil beneath the Arctic ice as well as accurately measures ice thickness, and the use of an active optical spectral detection and discrimination sensor mounted on an autonomous underwater vehicles to detect oil trapped under ice.

In a comparison of the two platform-based sensor architectures, QinetiQ North America and Fugro Earth Data estimate that an aircraft flying at 125 kts at 2,000 feet through 4 inches of snow and 8 feet of ice with nominal Lidar system parameters can search at a rate of 129 square miles (336 square kilometers) an hour, or a .9 mile (1.5 kilometers) swath and 65 feet (20 meters) spatial sampling. An AUV-borne sensor would be composed of a compact SF/RL payload that conically scans around 50 degrees from nadir for a nominal oil detection depth of 75 feet.


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