Readiness in Action: Inside OSRL’s Surface Dispersant Exercise

By Fagner A. Magalhaes and Jonathan Beaumont

Dispersants are an important tool in the oil spill response toolkit. Their value stems from their ability to quickly treat large areas of oil pollution to prevent contamination of sensitive shorelines,  which in turn, reduces risk to environmental and socio-economic resources. The use of  dispersant, like any oil spill response technique, relies upon determining a clear net  environmental benefit of the overall response strategy. Net Environmental Benefit Analysis  (NEBA) ensures that all techniques are prudent and proportionate to mitigate the environmental  impact of the incident. The use of dispersants often requires approval from government  authorities, both in terms of the dispersant type used and the specific use case in each incident.  The overall effectiveness of dispersant relies on good technical application and operational  monitoring by skilled responders who regularly attend training sessions and practice exercises to  maintain their competence at the highest level. This is why OSRL invested in this full week of  realistic training off the coast of the Isle of Wight. 

On the week of June 10th, OSRL executed a full deployment exercise, mobilising 25 response  personnel from around the world in addition to key response assets such as the Boeing 727 spray  aircraft, United Kingdom Continental Shelf (UKCS) Spotter aircraft, an offshore vessel, and water  column monitoring equipment. OSRL’s Response partners, 2Excel Aviation and Williams  Shipping, also assisted the exercise. 

OSRL UKCS Spotter and Aerial Surveillance Aircraft. OSRL 727 Spray Aircraft.

During the exercise, new technologies were trialled related to dispersant effectiveness  monitoring using a range of Marine Autonomous Systems (MAS). Companies including Jaia  Robotics, RS Aqua and Deeptrekker, attended the deployment and collected water column data  over the course of the week. The exercise team then used the data to show different outputs which could be used to illustrate dispersant effectiveness during a real-world oil spill event. The  data was shown in a 3D model, which illustrated the dispersing dye against water depth and  lat/long.  

The exercise scenario was that of an offshore oil spill southeast of the Isle of Wight, which required the mobilisation of significant assets to combat the spill. To help coordinate the  response from the Emergency Operating Centre (EOC) in Southampton, OSRL’s geomatics team generated an ‘Incident Hub.’ 

The Incident Hub is a digital platform that transforms raw data into actionable insights, ensuring  every stakeholder involved in an incident receives timely and accurate information. The hub  displayed live data such as vessel, aircraft and personnel location as well as live MAS  environmental data.

On the water, the use of fluorescein dye simulated the oil spill in the field acting as a target for the aircraft and a changing environmental parameter for the AUVs to monitor Over the course of  the exercise operations included five sorties of the 727 aircraft, spraying approximately 24,600  litres of water (simulating dispersant) successfully on-target and eight UKCS Spotter and Aerial  surveillance flights where the responders could refine polish their skills in in quantification and  classification of oil spills, directing operations and creation of over-flight reports. Surface  Dispersant Exercise Incident Hub. 

727 Spraying Dispersant over a pre-planned target.

Offshore, response specialists conducted a successful boat spray using the Afedo Nozzle system  and the MAS equipment proved to be a promising tool for improved SMART (Special Monitoring of Applied Response Technologies) dispersant effectiveness monitoring, presenting  comprehensive graphics aiding the decision-making process about dispersant use.  

Marine Autonomous Systems

Exercises play a critical role in maintaining readiness for oil spill response. They allow responders  to hone their skills, test procedures and reports, and consolidate team collaboration. Conducting  frequent exercises to continually strengthen essential technical skills is a fundamental part of  OSRL’s commitment to ensuring a first-class service is always ready to respond.

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