Feasibility studies on environmental monitoring

Environmental monitoring - an industry challenge

Environmental monitoring is a broad and comprehensive subject that all license-owners have to elaborate and integrate in all parts of a field`s life cycle.

Through the use of modern remote sensing instrumentation, oil spills can be detected and monitored on the sea surface around the clock. The information provided by these instruments enable response-personnel to more efficiently plan and effectuate countermeasures, and thereby minimize the biological and economic impacts of oil spills. Because the remote sensors for oil spill detection are becoming better with regards to technique, resolution, range and price, remote sensing is playing an increasingly important role in oil spill contingency and response worldwide. But in spite of the potentially disastrous effects an oil spill can have, remote sensing technology for oil spill purposes remains a niche market. The consequences of this are that:

  1. Several newly developed technologies remain successful research projects where a technique was verified with the conclusion that it holds potential for further development
  2. Several technologies only reach a certain level of maturity
  3. The technologies are completed on the developmental side, but lacks a plan for operational implementation and use

In addition to the above-mentioned challenges on the sensor-side, the environmental legislation and license requirements regarding environmental monitoring of oil spills, birds and mammals are general and occasionally subject to individual interpretations. The petroleum safety authorities demand that position, area, volume and properties of acute pollution be determined independent of visibility, light and weather conditions. The environmental Agencies on their side, require that the best available technology (BAT) shall be used for this purpose at all times, and that a spill of a significant size shall be detected within 1, 2 or 3 hours after it reaches the surface. The oil companies struggle to keep updated on BAT, as they lack recommendations both from the authorities and their own organization as to what class of environmental technology that should be used on a specific kind of installation, in a given geographical area, under a given set of weather conditions. This is highly relevant, since the operational window of the individual sensors is strongly weather-dependent.

The above-mentioned factors make it difficult for the environmental agencies to follow up on the environmental monitoring practice offshore and, consequently, to order improvements. The result is that they can do little less than to pinpoint gaps. With today`s low oil prices, the chosen environmental monitoring solution also has to be evaluated in cost-benefit perspective. How to reduce risk and meet the environmental requirements while simultaneously reducing cost, is a bigger challenge today than ever. BAT is a goal, however, the T has to be handled as ’Technique’ in many cases, and not as ’Technology’.

A good/valuable procedure/method to ensure a holistic, robust environmental monitoring solution is to perform a feasibility-study that builds up around-, and concludes with an optimal remote sensing solution for a given field. Such a study assess the technical and operational requirements up against prevailing dimensioning incidents, elaborate and define performance goals, and suggest the best operational and cost-efficient solution regarding use of technology, roles and operation. The purpose is to ensure that the operators have a well-studied remote surveillance system that detects significant acute pollution within the required time-frame, and that the satisfactory expertise and methodology is available to establish the position, extent, amount and combatability of a spill. The study shall serve as input to the operator`s choice of a field-specific environmental monitoring solution that enable them to be in control of the process, meet given requirements and serve as basis for future tender processes on technology and environmental monitoring services.