Skip to main content

OSRR-638-Chemical Dispersant Research at Ohmsett: Phase 2

Office/Division Program
Project Number
Research Initiation Date (Award Date)
Research Performing Activity
S.L. Ross Environmental Research Ltd.
Research Principal Investigator
Mr. Randy Belore and Dr. Ken Trudel

There is a need for research information and data on the effectiveness of chemical dispersants to answer questions and data gaps posed by BOEMRE regional offices, regulators and decision makers. A review of oil spill dispersants, their efficacy and effects, recently completed by the U.S. National Research Council (NRC 2005), recommended that research on chemical dispersants be conducted in several different areas.

In FY-2008, the BOEMRE received a research proposal that identified a multi-year dispersant research program to answer the questions and address the data gaps in the efficacy of dispersants identified in the NRC report. There were seven distinct tasks or projects proposed in this two-year dispersant research programs. In FY-2008, the BOEMRE funded Tasks 1, 2 and 5. These three tasks were completed in Project #615.

In FY-2009, the BOEMRE Oil Spill Response Research Team requested a technical and cost proposal update of Task 4 Evaluation of Dispersant Effectiveness in Low-Dose, Repeat Applications and Task 6 Validation of Small-Scale Laboratory Test Dispersant Effectiveness Ranking. The objective of this research program is to continue research and development on the use of chemical dispersants. Two tasks will be addressed. The period of performance would be one year.

Task 4. Evaluation of Dispersant Effectiveness in Low-Dose, Repeat Applications

Conventional wisdom and usual practice for the application of dispersant to large oil spills is through large, fixed-wing aircraft spraying. However, the spray from a single pass from such spray systems can treat a slick of only about 0.15 mm thick at the normal design application ratio of one part dispersant to 20 parts of oil. Thick oil patches accounting for 80 to 90 % of the total oil volume can easily be 10 to 100 times thicker than this. The application rate of dispersant from an aircraft application hitting the thick oil could be in the range of 1:200 to 1:2000 under such conditions. The question to be answered in this project is: Does dispersant applied in very low doses (1:1000 to 1:200) disperse a small fraction of an otherwise dispersible oil or is it simply ineffective until a minimum threshold concentration of dispersant in the oil is achieved, possibly through repeated spray passes?

The answer to this question has significant ramifications with respect to operational decisions in dispersant application on thick oil slicks. For example, if a test spray were completed on a thick oil slick and no dispersion was observed the dispersant might be considered to be in-effective, whereas multiple applications of the dispersant might be necessary to achieve a dosage sufficient to generate dispersion. This work will be completed at two test scales. Initial work will be completed at a laboratory test tank scale to assess the effect of low-dose application on a number of oils. Once trends have been determined in the laboratory testing will be completed at Ohmsett to verify similar behavior at full-scale.

Task 5. involves three tasks.

Small Scale Tests Large Scale Ohmsett testing Data Analysis and Technical Report

Task 6. Validation of Small-Scale Laboratory Test Dispersant Effectiveness Ranking

Bench scale dispersant effectiveness tests are routinely used around the world to rank the potential effectiveness of a dispersant product on standard oils or to study the effect of oil and dispersant type and environmental parameters on dispersant effectiveness. In the United States oils must achieve a measured effectiveness of 45% or greater in the swirling flask to be placed on EPA's NCP Product Schedule as an approved dispersant. But, what do the effectiveness values recorded in these laboratory tests mean with respect to likely effectiveness in the field and do the bench scale tests fairly evaluate dispersant products? Attempts have been made to correlate the results of bench scale tests to one another with mixed success thus suggesting that few, if any, of the tests are representative of real-world situations.

Very limited field data is available to allow the comparison of bench scale test results to field success and so this has also not been adequately done. It is proposed that the Ohmsett test facility be used as a surrogate to the field to provide field effectiveness estimates on a select number of oils for a select number of dispersants. Bench-scale tests would be conducted using the same dispersant and oil combinations and the results compared to establish if the bench-scale test results can be used to provide reasonable estimates of field performance. The EPA Baffled Flask Test (BFT) and the WSL Laboratory test (WSL) will be the bench-scale test methods used in the study. The BFT is being proposed as the new EPA standard and the WSL test has been shown to be more representative of field.

Task 6 involves three tasks:

Large Scale Ohmsett Testing Bench Scale DE Testing Data Analysis and Technical Report

Latest progress update

Large scale dispersant effectiveness experiments (DE) were conducted at Ohmsett October 26-30, 2009 for Task 5. BOEMRE has accepted the final report for this project. There are nine film clips associated with the Task 5 final report.

Additional laboratory-scale DE experiments must be conducted with various crude oils to obtain the required data to complete Task 6, Validation of Small-Scale Laboratory Test Dispersant Effectiveness Ranking. Samples of crude oils used in the large-scale Ohmsett experiments have been sent to Environment Canada to conduct the Swirling Flask Test.

BOEMRE has entered into an Interagency Agreement with the US EPA to perform the Baffled Flask Tests on twenty crude oils (TAR 666). Samples of crude oils used in the large-scale Ohmsett experiments have been sent to the EPA to conduct the Baffled Flask Test. BOEMRE has received and accepted the final report for TAR project 666.

The principal investigator will use the results from the EC and EPA laboratory-scale DE experiments to complete the final report for Task 6.

The final report was received and includes results from the ExxonMobil dispersant effectiveness test (EXDET). SL Ross recently presented the results at the Arctic and Marine Oilspill Program (AMOP) Technical Seminar on Environmental Containment and Response for peer review. BOEMRE has reviewed and accepted the final report for the project.