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Nofo Challenges Industry To Find Oil Spill Solutions

There has been an increasing focus on oil spill preparedness in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year. The Norwegian Clean Seas Association for Operating Companies (NOFO) has been challenging technology suppliers around the world to come up with new solutions via its development technology programme Oil Spill Response 2010.

Norway has first-hand experience of the dangers from a blowout at an offshore oil installation. In 1977, the Ekofisk field in the North Sea spilled 80,000-120,000 barrels of oil over seven days until the well was capped.

Although there was no significant environmental damage or shoreline pollution, the spill had a significant impact on the political environment and the industry.

The government postponed opening the area north of 62 degrees for new licensing awards until it had a chance to evaluate its oil spill preparedness. The industry responded by developing new and more advanced equipment to handle future potential spills.

NorLense NO-800-R boom with the Framo skimmer being used during oil recovery operation in connection with the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. © NorLense

Oil Spill Response 2010

The latest industry initiative is NOFO’s Oil Spill Response 2010 programme, which focuses on developing new ideas to combat spills at sea. Launched last year, the programme invites Norwegian and international companies, as well as research and development communities, to help solve technological challenges in return for financial support and NOFO agreeing to purchase the first fully developed, commercially available product.

The programme has been initiated on behalf of the operating companies on the Norwegian Continental Shelf and is conducted in cooperation with the Norwegian Costal Administration. NOFO initially plans to spend about NOK 30-40 million in connection with the programme.

So far, 21 projects from companies in six different countries, such as Denmark, the UK, USA and Sweden, have been included. More than 120 companies have signed up and more than 170 project ideas were submitted for the technology development programme. The programme deals with four main topics: oil recovery at sea, dispersion application technology, remote sensing technology and technology for coastal and shoreline operations.

Most of the projects extend over several years. But NOFO says a few results are already emerging. For example, there will be tests conducted for a management system for optimal use of traditional oil booms, a dispersion system for small vessels using a paravane, an unmanned drone for remote sensing of oil in coastal areas, a new digital data and video link between ships and from planes to ships, and a new high-speed oil boom. In addition, there will be the first laboratory tests of a new portable oil detection radar system not based on the wave dampening (bragg) principle.

One example is Tønsberg-based H. Henriksen Mekaniske Verksted, which signed an agreement with NOFO under the Oil Spill Response 2010 programme to develop products for use in sheltered waters and in the beach zone, both a large floating work platform and a portable oil skimmer for recovering oil spills.

Other Norwegian companies that have signed agreements with NOFO in connection with this programme include Åkrehamn trålbøteri, Frank Mohn Flatøy, MD Group, Aanderaa Data Instruments, Aptomar, ISPAS, Maritime Robotics, Aranica, Vacumkjempen Nord-Norge, Mercur and Team Innovation Trondheim.

The objective of Frank Mohn Flatøy’s HISORS-High Sea Oil Recovery System project will be to increase the speed potential for conventional booms to more than 2 knots by introducing perforated booms. Aptomar is researching an automatic system for application of dispersants that will improve efficiency during application of dispersants, with low cost sensors being a key issue. ISPAS is developing a mobile, coherence high frequency radar to detect oil and potentially also the thickness of the slick.

Project New Boom
Separately, NOFO is supporting the NorLense project “New Boom 2008” as part of the Research Council of Norway’s project portfolio within the PETROMAKS programme.

Hugo Svendesen, NorLense head of oil spill recovery R&D, said the company received NOK 2 million from NOFO for its three-year project, which will cost a total of NOK 16 million to research. The project will research ways to bring oil that has been dispersed by breaking waves back up to the surface.

The challenge is that current equipment only collects oil that is floating on the surface. By being able to collect oil that is dispersed by breaking waves during rougher weather, it will be possible to expand the window for oil spill recovery.

“The secret lies in the means of getting it up to the surface,” said Svendsen. “This has not been done before.”

NorLense recently completed a heavy involvement in the offshore oil spill recovery of the Deepwater Horizon accident. The company partnered with Louisiana-based shipping company Edison Chouest Offshore and Norwegian company FRAMO and mobilised a fleet of oil recovery vessels (ORV) to combat the oil spill at open sea. The ORVs were equipped with NorLense R-series offshore oil containment boom systems.

Coordinated Norwegian Response
In Norway, oil spill response is coordinated between the private sector, municipalities, and the state. The ministry of the environment sets the requirements and the Climate Pollution Agency approves emergency preparedness plans and ensures compliance. Oil companies are responsible for handling acute incidents and work closely with the NOFO.

NOFO manages and maintains preparedness, including personnel, equipment and vessels. It has five bases along the coast where it has permanent equipment. NOFO has at its disposal 25 oil recovery vessels and 25 tugboats equipped with oil recovery detection systems, 20 sea-going mechanical recovery systems, large stocks of dispersion agents and an agreement relating to dispersion from planes, and remote measurement from satellites, planes, helicopters, vessels and installations.

The Norwegian Spill Control Association (NOSCA) is another organization with 25 members from industry, research and development and government institutions that work jointly to develop equipment and contingency planning for oil spill emergencies.

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