Subsea Autonomous Gliders Used in Major Oil Spill Response Exercise on England’s South Coast

July 15 2017

Oil spills can have significant consequences for society, economy and the environment. As a result, oil spill accidents have focused attention on industry and governmental responses to oil spills, and what actions can best prevent them from happening and how best to manage them if they do occur. Clean up and recovery from an oil spill is challenging, and dependent upon many factors, including the type and volume of oil spilled, meteorological/oceanographic conditions, and local geography. Spills may take weeks, months or even years to clean up, so understanding how and where oil is moving through the water column is of critical importance to ensure the process of remediation is both efficient and effective.

In a recent offshore exercise conducted by Oil Spill Response Ltd. (OSRL), Blue Ocean Monitoring (Blue Ocean) deployed a Teledyne Webb Research Slocum Glider with hydrocarbon sensory package, to test and validate the technology in the context of an oil spill event. The OSRL exercise was designed to understand how new remote sensing technologies can help detect and manage oil spills at sea more effectively.

Utilising the latest in satellite, airborne and in-water surveillance and communications equipment, the successful event demonstrated the value of the technology in identifying and monitoring spills and was conducted with full approval of the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) following a rigorous planning and stakeholder consultation process.

The main surveillance tools and providers involved in the exercise included:

  • Radar and optical satellite imagery (MDA, Earth-I, Airbus, Telespazio)
  • Infra-red and Ultraviolet sensors on the OSRL UKCS aircraft (2Excel Aviation)
  • Airborne hyperspectral sensors (2Excel Aviation)
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) (Sky Futures and Bristow Group)
  • Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) (Blue Ocean Monitoring and Planet Ocean)
  • A surveillance kite with COFDM link (Domo Tactical Communications (DTC))
  • IP Mesh Network on vessel and crew (Briggs Marine and DTC)

The exercise took place on 13 June 2017 in open sea off the southern coast of England. A minimal amount of oil was released under carefully controlled conditions and with approval from the MMO. On hand was the full complement of oil spill response equipment and personnel, including a purpose-equipped vessel, containment and recovery equipment and UK approved dispersant.

Real-time data from the Blue Ocean glider was communicated through OSRL’s Southampton-based Visualisation Centre, which via a GIS platform, integrated data from each of the technology partner’s equipment as well as oil spill modelling platforms and satellite feeds. The remote sensing technology used was able to identify and monitor the controlled spill, and OSRL was satisfied by the performance of the various new technologies involved. In addition, the response equipment and personnel operated in an efficient and effective manner providing validation of OSRL’s approach.

Keith Wallace, Chief Commercial Officer at Blue Ocean, stated "The exercise was an exceptional opportunity to showcase subsea glider technology as a valid tool for oil spill response, and further demonstrate the capability of the Blue Ocean team to deliver on projects of this nature".

As the oil and gas industry continues to adapt strategies to align with sustained lower oil prices, autonomous technology is being embraced in all aspects through the life of offshore projects; increasing the volume and accessibility of offshore data, reducing project costs and lowering health, safety and environmental exposure. Blue Ocean Monitoring, headquartered in Perth, Australia and regional offices in the UK, USA and Singapore, is a specialist survey provider, and with an expanding fleet of unmanned vehicles are a world leader in the deployment of autonomous technology.