Developing an integrated mechanical recovery and oil spill response system

With support from Natural Resources Canada’s Oil Spill Response Science (OSRS) and the Government of Newfoundland & Labrador’s InnovateNL initiative, C-CORE has undertaken a project to significantly increase oil spill preparedness and provide an effective, practical solution for spill clean-up in harsh, cold-ocean environments.

The two-year project, which draws on C‑CORE’s expertise in modelling, simulation and large-scale physical tests, aims is to improve existing oil recovery equipment, particularly in terms of how easy they are to deploy and operate in cold, icy ocean conditions and how effective they are for heavy oil such as Bunker C, the main fuel for marine transportation.

The Government of Canada provided $991,500 and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador provided $428,000 to fund the research, which will provide a basis for the next generation of high-performance oil separation technology. The resulting system is expected to be ready for large-scale tests within three to five years and be proven in real-life conditions within 10 years of project start-up. Providing flexible real time adjustments and quick response, it will ensure that the global marine transportation system has access to world-class safety equipment to protect the environment.

Canada is steward of a vast ocean estate and has the longest coastline of any nation. Most of our offshore can be ice-prone and subject to challenging sea states and harsh weather.

Further, the Northwest Passage is gradually opening, offering reduced transit time between Europe and Asia, ~ 40% shorter than the Panama Canal route and 20% shorter than the Suez, saving time, fuel and CO2 emissions (by up to 1300 metric tonnes per trip). Increased traffic is inevitable.

The Oil Spill Response Science (OSRS) program supports the Government of Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan through R&D to improve recovery technologies and processes for oil spill clean-up. Current clean-up efficiency is particularly challenged by heavy oil, cold oceans, ice-prone water and high sea states that can trap oil below the surface in the water column.

Existing collection systems are either efficient at collecting spilled oil but are not easily cleaned (fibre, ropes and brush skimmers), or not efficient at collecting oil but can be cleaned and used repeatedly (drums, disk and belt skimmers). Further, existing systems cannot capture oil below the ocean surface. This project aims to improve the efficiency of existing collection technologies, develop systems that can capture oil particles suspended in the water column and select suitable separator mechanisms to integrate with a deployment system.

Various aspects of oil spill response will be assessed, including collection mechanisms such as booms, containment systems, storage and disposal, with a special focus on operability and logistics, particularly deployment. Analytical modelliing, computer simulation and physical testswill be used to compare performance of different separation technologies and optimize the system for a wide range of spill scenarios.

An experimental apparatus will be designed, fabricated and benchmarked in C-CORE facilities in St. John’s, NL. The project will also include safety, environment protection and pollution disposal planning. The goal is to develop an integrated concept design suitable for future large-scale tests.

This project builds on C-CORE’s previous work on oil spill response, including its scoping of the proposed Sedna Center for controlled technology testing and personnel training in realistic harsh cold-ocean conditions. Other C-CORE research in this area includes reports on Oil Spill Detection and Modelling Solutions for Hudson and Davis Strait and Enhanced Capacity for Oil Spill Situational Awareness and Response in Nunavut, as well as development of algorithms to improve tools in support of the emergency geomatics services and for semi-automated classification of oil slicks at sea using radar and optical imagery.

Collaboration is key to the project team’s approach. Partners include Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland (which operates an oil spill tank at its Offshore Safety and Survival Centre), Elastec (a global leader in oil spill and environmental equipment) and Eastern Canada Response Corporation Ltd. (which provides marine oil spill response services in Canada’s navigable waters east of the Rocky Mountains).