Skip to main content

OSRR-569-Svalbard, Norway Experimental Oil Spill To Study Spill Detection and Oil Behavior in Ice

Project Number
Project Initiation Date
Performing Activity
DF Dickens and Associates, SINTEF, Boise State University, The University Center at Svalbard
Principal Investigator
David Dickens
Contracting Agency

Proposal focuses on the design and implementation of a field spill in Svalbard, Norway in March 2006, where several remote sensing systems will be tested in both surface and airborne modes. Experiment will be conducted over solid land fast sea ice representative of the type of ice found in many near shore Arctic regions of the world including the Alaskan North Slope.

Latest progress update

For the past 2 years the Minerals Management Service (MMS) has sponsored research on the detection of oil in and under sea ice and has funded several successful sets of experiments using ground penetrating radar and ultra-sensitive ethane sensors. (TAR Project No. 517)
November 2004 experiments at the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) in Hanover NH Follow-on research at Boise State University (March-July 2005) April 2005 Prudhoe Bay, AK (without oil at temperatures -20oF)

Next phase of this research program was to design and implement a full-scale experimental spill at Svea, Svalbard, Norway. MMS worked with SINTEF and the University of Svalbard on this effort and in February 2006, MMS has received its fourth permit from the Norwegian government and the Governor of Svalbard to conduct an intentional release of oil for research purposes at Svea.

The proposed research will:

Test and evaluate several remote systems in surface and airborne modes Document vertical migration rate of oil Map oil spreading and distribution under ice Document rate and extent of oil encapsulation Document weathering processes Evaluate effectiveness countermeasure strategies such as in situ burning
and specialized arctic skimmers

MMS then assembled a Joint Project with Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Alaska Clean Seas, ConocoPhilips, ExxonMobil, Shell Technology Norway, and Statoil ASA as participants. In late March 2006, we injected 3,400 liters of fresh Stratfjord crude oil cleanly under the ice. All of the oil was completely contained within the skirt. From March 27-31, 2006, the ground penetrating radar successfully detected and mapped the oil from the surface, showing a clear difference in signature between clean and oiled ice. We were not able to see the ice/oil/water interface from the helicopter but did come back with a very clear profile of the snow and ice top surface from the airborne trials. It appears that with the current off the shelf radar technology we can provide a useful operational tool to quickly map oil under ice from the surface (a major improvement over drilling holes) and potentially to map oil buried under snow on top of the ice from a helicopter at low level. We are still analyzing ice samples for gas concentrations to assess the future potential of ethane sensors. The acoustics system provided mixed results and the data requires more analysis to assess future prospects in this area.

More than sixteen scientists and observers from the funding agencies participated. Fate and behavior experiments were conducted throughout the field program. Following the conclusion of field activities, the site was monitored until the crude oil migrated to the surface. On May 30, 2006, a successful in situ burn was conducted culminating in a highly efficient (96%+) oil burn in ice (no surprise on the high efficiency). This was after the oil was in and under ice for 2-months.

A report was sent to the Governor of Svalbard documenting the field work, in situ burn activities and the status of the spill site. All aspects and requirements of the spill permit were completed and the site was returned to its natural state. Once again, MMS left a positive impression with the Norwegian government for complying with all aspects of the spill permit requirements. This is extremely important for obtaining spill permits in the future.

Interpretation and analysis of results will proceed through the summer, with the aim to produce a draft report on the full program in September 2006. The final report has been accepted by MMS. This project is complete.