Workgroup Formed to Advance Sunken Oil Capabilities

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The marine salvage, commercial diving and oil spill response industries have increasingly been sought out to prevent oil spills from submerged shipwrecks, and to detect and recover spilled oil below the surface once a subsea spill occurs. 

In recent years, underwater oil recovery techniques have advanced from predominantly surface-supplied diver installed vacuum or pumping systems in relatively shallow waters to the use of saturation diving systems and remotely operated vehicles at greater depths. Underwater oil detection technologies have advanced permitting the detection of spilled oil in the water column, on the bottom and in the subsurface. For oil trapped within a sunken shipwreck, neutron backscatter technology has been successfully applied to locate oil inside the ship. 

Additionally, the International Maritime Organization, U.S. Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have published regulations, guidance and studies in the past five years in an effort to improve submerged oil detection and recovery operations.

Unfortunately, an off-the-shelf system to both quickly detect and recover sunken oil once it is released from the ship has yet to be developed. 

In an effort to address this gap in oil response technology, the American Petroleum Institute has commissioned a team of senior oil spill response and marine salvage experts to identify and document best practices and alternative technologies with the potential to more effectively identify and recover sunken oil.  The team also plans to develop a standard guide for oil spill responders faced with the challenging task of locating and recovering sunken oil. 

Additionally, the project will establish a framework and priorities for ongoing research and development for the highest potential alternative technologies. The team’s ultimate goal is to identify “emergency ready” existing and potential alternative technology that can be effectively tailored to create an integrated system to decrease response times while increasing the recovery rate of sunken oil.

Dr. Jacqueline Michel, president of Research Planning, Inc., is the project manager for the API Workgroup. Mark Ploen, president of Quali Tech Environmental, and Jim Elliott, vice president of T&T Salvage, both serve as technical experts on the team. The team members have previously led several submerged oil recovery projects and recently were invited to speak at the International Forum on Group V (Heavy) Oils.

The workgroup team is seeking industry input by mid-November 2014. Individuals and companies desiring to provide input on this study should contact Jacqui Michel at [email protected], Jim Elliott at [email protected] or Mark Ploen at [email protected]   

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