Lessons From Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill


Deepwater Horizon

The Deepwater Horizon platform collapsed  due to a subsea well blowout in April 2010 spilling an estimated 205.8 million gallons of oil.  The response to the spill was diverse and conducted on an unprecedented larger scale.  Different response mechanisms include subsea and surface dispersant use, booming, skimming and even in-situ burning.

Application of 1.84 million gallons of dispersants, both aerially and sub-sea at the wellhead, was unheard of. Different measures were deployed depending on the day, the weather conditions and the amount and location of oiled shoreline.

This spill was the first where dispersants were applied subsea at the wellhead.  More than 120,000 response technologies were tested through the Alternative Response Technologies Evaluation System (ARTES) Program.

The incident report (USCG, 2011) pointed at the following R&D needs:

  1. Ensuring minimum standards and consistency for Gulf of Mexico Area Contingency Plans (ACPs).
  2. Identification of Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs).
  3. Development of improved technology and response protocols for well blowouts.
  4. System development for oil spill response organizations.
  5. Standardization of processes for rapid collection, processing, correlation, analysis and distribution of satellite imagery and oil thickness sensors to direct spill response operations with real-time data.
  6. Improvement of subsea oil detection.
  7. SMART monitoring technologies and protocols in offshore environments.
  8. Technology to determine oil slick thickness.
  9. Development of more efficient skimmers and mechanical recovery equipment.
  10. Making a fully operational Common Operating Picture (COP) available during drills, exercises, and actual events.
  11. Development of protocols for thorough, independent testing and evaluation of response technologies prior to being used on a spill.
  12. The study of toxicity of dispersants, dispersant efficacy including volumetric limitations of applications and in mitigation of environmental impacts.
  13. Tracking programs to monitor and track large, dispersed oil plumes.
  14. A case study analysis of dispersants and dispersed oil  under different environmental conditions (e.g., subsea).
  15. ISB as a response option and areas where it can be subject to expedited approval.
  16. A study of the performance of various fire boom designs and improve technologies for water-cooled and reusable booms.
  17. A comprehensive spill preparedness and response outreach program involving state and local emergency managers.
  18. Adaption of Spill of National Significance (SONS) doctrine inclusive of state, local and tribal governments in a response.

ICCOPR’s executive director Bill Vocke said, “The research needs focus on the tools and technologies employed by the Coast Guard On-Scene Coordinators to address oil spills in the marine environment to improve our capabilities to respond to spills but also improve prevention, preparedness and injury assessment/restoration capabilities.”

The committee intends to update the plan every six years to reflect advancements in oil pollution technology and changing research needs.  However, the plan does not establish any regulatory requirement or interpretation, nor does it imply any new or modified regulatory requirement.

Source: US Coast Guard