Our oil spill response work in the North Sea

Innovative systems, technologies and ways of working are helping to further improve our ability to respond to spills

BP is continually looking at ways to enhance its capabilities to effectively respond to, and mitigate the effects of, an oil spill. Technological innovation is helping us to collate and improve the presentation of data and extract the information we need to make decisions, should an incident occur. As part of an oil spill response training exercise in the North Sea in the UK, we tested a number of technologies, including our new sensitivity mapping system and a spill assessment tool.

A picture paints a thousand words

Sensitivity mapping helps us to identify the various types of habitats, resources and communities that could be affected by oil spills and develop appropriate response strategies.

We have developed a mapping system that brings together geographical, operational, infrastructure, biological, socio-economic and habitat information, to provide a more comprehensive picture of the likely impacts of a spill on the surrounding coastlines.

Model making

Oil spill modelling gives us an indication of the potential movement of oil following a spill. Enhancements in modelling software and the quality of data used are further improving our ability to predict these movements. We use data such as the type of oil spilled and rate of release, as well as environmental data, for example on wind and ocean currents, to model potential impacts.

Satellite imagery can also provide a more comprehensive understanding of the size and location of a spill and has the added advantage of near real-time visual assessment of its movements.

Testing the technology

The oil spill response training exercise in the North Sea simulated equipment failure of  subsea infrastructure off the west coast of Shetland with a release of oil that impacted the coastline. During the exercise, data from sensitivity mapping, 3D modelling tools and satellite imagery was channelled into the mapping system, allowing all of the information to be viewed on a single common operating platform.

We assign roles and responsibilities when conducting a training exercise, such as incident commander, who is responsible for coordinating the teams that are involved in the immediate response to the incident. Using the mapping system, the incident commander in the North Sea exercise was able to share visual representations of how the spill developed and likely impacts to the environment. This assisted the incident management team’s understanding of the situation and coordination of a measured response. With more information available more quickly, the teams were able to determine appropriate actions to address the equipment failure and manage the clean-up.

A calculated response

As part of the simulated exercise, the North Sea teams also trialled a tool for assessing how much oiled waste could be generated across impacted coastlines in the event of a spill. The technology uses oil spill modelling data combined with shoreline characteristics and historical spill clean-up analysis to provide an estimate for the potential volume of oiled waste generated. This information can then be used to enhance understanding of the resources required to coordinate the clean-up.

Applying lessons learned

These technologies provided useful visual tools for understanding the nature of the incident and developing appropriate response strategies. As well as testing the new technologies, the exercises helped us to understand how to improve their effectiveness. For example, we noted that the increased amount of information generated by the tools means that additional data analysis personnel to process the data and manage the distribution of information to key personnel and teams could be very valuable in a response situation. Lessons learned will be incorporated into future exercises.

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