Identifying Oil Spill Origins

New Wave Media

June 16, 2013

An interesting article by the leading Brazilian newspaper O Globo, signed by Journalist Marcio Beck, brings to light the need to urgently create a database with information on the “DNA” of oil produced in Brazilian fields. According to researchers from the Academia and from the O&G industry, this is essential in order to speed up the identification of those responsible for any given oil spill.

According to the article, the basic characteristics found in the formation of an oil reservoir, such as types of stones, sediments and organic matter along with time, temperature and pressure conditions, which give a distinct DNA to each different oil reservoir. Therefore, it would be possible to identify from which field any given oil sample originated from. This would expedite identifying which operator is responsible for a spill in order to quicken response to spills and clean up of affected areas.

This would also help end the mystery pertaining to the so called “orphan” oil slicks (those oil slicks that cannot have their origins immediately identified). A good example is the Chevron oil spill in the Frade field at the Campos Basin, in November 2011, which was originally considered an orphan spill, when first identified by Petrobras between the Frade and Roncador fields. Only 2 days after the beginning of the spill, on November 9,did Chevron officially communicate its responsibility for the spill and initiate security and containment measures.

Another good example of how this database could be used is the fact that Chevron claims that the oil that is still seeping through the crack in the rocks under the seabed are not from the same well as the oil from the spill in November. This claim is based on the fact that samples of this oil were analyzed by Ipex, a laboratory belonging to Brazilian independent operator HRT Oil & Gas and revised by Chevron technicians, attests to the fact that the origins of the oil samples differ. The operator does not divulge the exact test results or the oil “DNA” as this is considered classified information.

With such a dynamic growth as the Brazilian O&G industry is experiencing and with the knowledge that this growth will continue for another decade at least, signifying hundreds of new wells to be drilled and put in production, where the oil will go upstream to refineries by way of thousands of miles of pipelines and hundreds of tankers, it may become extremely difficult to identify a spill´s source without a comprehensive independent oil identification database.

It is probable that any such independent oil analysis laboratory would be headed by Coppe-UFRJ as they are the leading academic institution in Brazil, when it comes to oil and gas research. According to Luiz Landau, a leading engineer at Coppe-UFRJ and coordinator of its Laboratory of Computational Engineering Methods (Lamce) at Coppe-UFRJ, the Brazilian database should be centralized and contain the chemical signature of the oil in each well in Brazil. “The companies (operators) have databases because it is interesting commercially.” There is also the strategic value in being able to compare different kinds of oil.

Claudio Paschoa

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Paschoa, Claudio
Claudio Paschoa is Marine Technology Reporter's correspondent in Brazil.
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