Oil spills are regrettably all too common around the world: the Amoco Cadiz in France in 1978; the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989; the Gulf War spill in Kuwait in 1991; the Erica in France in 1999; the Aegean Sea in Galicia, Spain, in 1992; the Prestige in Spain and France in 2002, and the largest in history, the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
There were in fact a total of six major oil spills in 2021, and 2022 has already seen many thousands of barrels of crude oil spilled from a refinery off the Peruvian coast about 30km north of Lima – as a result of violent eruption of a volcano near Tonga.
Oil spills threaten millions of miles of coastline, river systems, lakes, and terrestrial habitat daily, particularly where extensive oil drilling, refining, and transport take place, and the challenge of managing such oil spills around the world is only increasing in complexity and magnitude. Oil spills from tankers have some of the greatest adverse effects on the environment, since the oil would not have time to disperse before reaching shore and can significantly impact sensitive habitats.
Oil spills and the environment
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is considered to be the largest oil spill in the industry’s history, creating extensive damage to the marine environment. According to estimates, this single spill killed over 82,000 birds, 25,900 marine mammals, 6,000 sea turtles and tens of thousands of fish, among others. The Exxon Valdez, site of numerous more birds than the Gulf of Mexico, was estimated to have killed 250,000 seabirds, almost 2,800 sea otters and 300 harbour seals, among others. Marine organisms such as fish and shellfish also digest oil, which causes changes in reproduction, growth rates and death. Commercially important species such as oysters, shrimp, mahi-mahi, grouper, swordfish and tuna also show population declines or become too contaminated to be safely caught and eaten.
Marine oil spills originate in oil platforms, refineries, or oil tankers cleaning their tanks in the ocean. Most oils float on the oceans’ saltwater or freshwater from rivers and lakes. Oil usually spreads out rapidly across the water’s surface to form a thin oil slick. As the oil continues spreading, the slick becomes thinner and thinner, finally becoming a very thin sheen, which often looks like a rainbow. (In rare cases, very heavy oil can sometimes sink.) Practically, there is not much that can be done when it comes to oil spills, especially in the initial stages – early detection is crucial. Experts and professionals do their best to scoop and soak up, as well as burn off the oils off the surface of the ocean. Others can volunteer to help clean the beaches. However, these tend to be damage control rather than mitigating environmental effects. Oil spill prevention remains the only way to manage the transportation and exploration of hydrocarbons, as no foolproof cleanup methods have been discovered.
Hydrocarbons and the energy crisis 2022
The energy crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 has led to hydrocarbon shortages in European economies and indications of a greater willingness by governments to embrace an increase in hydrocarbon exploration. On January 19th, 2022, the UK approved the Abigail oil field. Abigail is the first oil field that the UK has approved since hosting the UN climate talks and was approved despite warnings from the International Energy Agency and the UN that there can be no new oil and gas developments if the UK is to stay within critical climate thresholds. Abigail is a small field, continuing around 5.5 million barrels of oil – about 1/30 the size of Cambo.
“Practically, there is not much that can be done when it comes to oil spills, especially in the initial stages – early detection is crucial”
The Cambo field is a prospective oil and gas field in the North Sea, 125 kilometres (78 mi) north west of the Shetland Islands, Scotland. The field is in a deep section of the water, some 3,440–3,610 feet (1,050–1,100 m) below the sea level and has the potential to deliver a 25-year project yielding 170 million barrels of oil and 53 billion cubic feet (1.5×109 m3) of gas. In December 2021, development of the oil field was “paused” by Siccar Point Energy, after Shell withdrew from the venture, however the new Prime Minister Truss has signalled that there will be a major push to hand out oil and gas exploration licences in the North Sea – possibly more than 100 – to boost domestic production.
Even more notable than Cambo is the Rosebank field, which lies 233km east of Peterhead in the North Sea off the East coast of Scotland. This oil field could produce almost 70,000 barrels of oil a day at its peak, and whilst industry body Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) said it would benefit UK energy security and the Scottish economy, environmental campaigners claim it would be a “total betrayal” of climate goals if the UK Government approves the project. Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said the energy crisis had ‘exposed the need to strengthen Britain’s energy security for the good of the nation’.
Oil in water detection from Chelsea Technologies
UviLux sensors enable real-time, in situ detection of a wide variety of UV fluorescence parameters, including oil in water. The UviLux OIL is typically used for offshore monitoring at the source, oil spill response and leak detection. The UviLux OIL is depth rated to 1000m, is easy to integrate with monitoring platforms and systems, or combine with our Hawk Hand-held Display and Data Logger for on the spot readings and logging.