The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Energy Tomorrow Radio: Episode 106 - Gulf Oil Spill Response Technology

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted May 1, 2010

In today's episode, I interview API's Allison Nyholm, an oil spill response veteran, about the technologies used by the oil and natural gas industry to handle spills.

Use the audio player below to listen to information about the article and follow along with the show notes. I hope you find the podcast informative.

Show Notes:

00:17 America has been watching the evolving Gulf of Mexico situation. The Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank while crew members were completing an exploration well in about 5,000 feet of water. Eleven crew members are missing and presumed dead, several others were injured--and at this time--oil is continuing to flow into the water.

00:58 The Deepwater Horizon accident was a terrible tragedy for all of us, and our prayers continue to be with the crew members and their families, as well as with responders who are working very hard to stop the oil and mitigate the impact on the environment.

01:21 Hundreds of thousands of feet of boom has been deployed. Can you discuss how the boom works and its effectiveness?

01:29 Nyholm: Absorbents, pads, pillows or boom can be used to corral the oil. Boom material is also used to absorb and corral the oil so that it can be skimmed off the top of the water.

01:50 On the seafloor, there are underwater robots called ROVs that are apparently trying to activate the blowout preventer. What is a blowout preventer and how is it supposed to work?

02:03 Nyholm: Well control is really important, and in the process of putting a well in place, controlling the pressure is key. Pipes are placed at the wellhead during construction and then at that wellhead, a blowout preventer is installed.

02:22 Nyholm: Blowout preventers can vary. They can encase the well head. They can also shear the well head, cutting the pipe and closing it off. The pictures you see are of the ROVs' hands trying to activate that shearing mechanism. The industry and agencies will see what happened as the days unfold and they're able to investigate.

03:06 We've also read that responders have been spraying chemical dispersants. What exactly are they and how do they work?

03:12 Nyholm: Chemical dispersants activate a natural chemical process of oxidization so it breaks down the oil and disperses it. It's a biodegrading process.

03:38 Some of the responders also have used controlled burns to remove some of the oil from the water. How are controlled burns conducted?

03:49 Nyholm: In-situ burning, or controlled burns, are considered an industry standard for addressing oil spills of this sort. In good weather conditions, like on April 28, the winds were blowing in the right direction, and what responders were able to do was place fire-retardant boom around sections of the oil--and the oil was ignited.

04:38 Nyholm: The fire is monitored very closely and extinguished. Then you've got a thin, waxy sheen that can be skimmed off the top. And at that time you can take care of between 90 and 98 percent of the oil. It's considered to be a very effective industry approach.

05:11 A number of other efforts right now are being used to handle oil that's coming up on the coastline. What is being done there?

05:57 Nyholm: At the outset, boom was laid along coastlines presumed to be particular places where oil could hit. This is being monitored and has been monitored since day one, and additional boom is being placed. Agencies and the industry are monitoring those areas on a regular basis and will continue to do so. Boom is one of the key approaches to addressing oil that would hit landfall.

05:50 How would you describe the oil industry's commitment to safety and environmental protection?

06:04 Nyholm: MMS collects data relative to safety standards and adherence to those standards and records regularly. The industry also reexamines and relooks at standards in place to see if there need to be any modifications or updates. The industry takes this very seriously.

07:00 Nyholm: In the days since the Deepwater Horizon incident, the response has been quite rapid, swift and according to contingency plans. There have been few missteps in terms of timing. We're still obviously collecting a lot of data from the industry perspective, but the following of and adhering to plans and administering contingency scenarios has been very swift. And I think that's to the credit of industry professionals from day one.

07:40 Allison, thank you for joining us today on Energy Tomorrow Radio.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Van Ryan was formerly senior communications manager and new media advisor at the American Petroleum Institute (API), where she wrote blog posts and produced podcasts and videos. Before coming to API, Jane managed communications for a large science and engineering corporation, and for a top-tier research and engineering university. A few years ago, you might have seen her in your living room when she delivered the news on television. Jane officially retired from API in 2011 and now freelances as an independent communications consultant when not gardening at her farm in Virginia.