Tinka Murk and Bas Bolman from IMARES Wageningen UR were invited to give a key note on the Offshore Energy Conference in Amsterdam on October 16th. Murk and Bolman participated at the environmental impact session.
Murk discussed the environmental effects of dispersants use during the Deep Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. She also introduced a potential alternative for dispersants, named Ecotech, which is a highly absorbent and non-toxic foam.
Bolman discussed the environmental impacts of Arctic operations, stating that we should think, act and interact differently when it comes to operations in extreme environments. Such an approach starts with understanding the ecosystem and the involvement of stakeholders in order to develop more sustainable designs of operations. Below the presentations and discussion are explained in more detail.
Session: Minimizing environmental impacts of oil and gas operations
The scientific community is trying to build on the lessons learnt both in terms of prevention and mitigation of consequences stemming from accidents such as the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon spill in the U.S. Gulf of 2010. The Offshore Energy Exhibition & Conference featured the “Minimizing environmental impacts of oil and gas operations” session. During the session various marine environment issues were raised such as: the effectiveness of oil spill response methodologies, spatial planning, the role of operational management, environmental regulations and licensing, Arctic drilling ops, etc.
The speakers at the session were Bas Bolman, Programme Manager at IMARES, Tinka Murk, Professor Environmental Toxicology at Wageningen University, and Erik Huber, Business Development Director Industry Energy and Mining Royal HaskoningDHV.
Bas Bolman: The environmental impacts of Arctic operations
When speaking about the challenges for the maritime sector to operate in the Arctic, Bolman said that spatial planning plays an important role when it comes to “where are we going to operate in the Arctic, and which spaces should we leave alone.”
He said that aside to where, it is also important to focus on how things are done and to work with the nature. Bolman suggested the industry should work more adaptively according to the specific ecosystem that it is operating in. Referring to an example from the dredging industry he said:” “Regulations are there to protect the environment, but why should we have strict regulations when you have an ecosystem that is not sensitive at all to the activity?”
He also gave a reciprocal example: “What about sensitive ecosystems? Can we have a little bit stricter norms and regulations there?”
As a means of taking things forwards Bolman proposed that “we start from the environment, we start from understanding the ecosystem and how it functions and then we take the next step. And we try to develop smart designs. Instead of fighting nature, we try to join nature and use its potential.
And then, we involve the stakeholders in the early stage of operations and let them participate throughout the process. They get to think together with the maritime sector about how to design the operation.”
This year, Wageningen UR members went to Svalbard to carry out research to prevent oil spills in the Arctic. In addition, ballast water systems were tested under arctic conditions. Moreover, the aim was to select certain species that are sensitive to effects of oil and gas operations. They visited the Arctic itself with the aim to select certain species that are sensitive to effects of oil and gas operations.
“You don’t need to have fancy equipment to monitor your effects; you can also use nature itself. So, what we’re trying to do here is find suitable species, shells, worms to do the monitoring for us,” Bolman said. He also informed about a shellfish typical for the area which could be an interesting species to monitor the environment around oil and gas platforms.
Role of NGOs
During the Q&A part of the session we asked Bolman to tell us more about the informal approval operators need from the NGO’s. Furthermore, we inquired about the recommendations for getting that approval from organizations such as Greenpeace for example?
“In my opinion there are two types of NGOs. There are NGOs that are constructive, with one leg in the system, discussing various issues with the maritime sector. The other ones are like Greenpeace that don’t want to be in the dialogue, but instead want to be outside and let the world know what is going on in various parts of the world. The constructive ones, can get involved in the design of a project and because of their involvement they can express their worries and concerns.” According to Bolman, the constructive organizations can contribute to awarding of informal licenses by participation and involvement throughout different stages of project developments, by giving their expert input, for example, on protected species in specific ecosystems.
Tinka Murk: Environmental effects of dispersants use during DeepWater Horizon disaster
Tinka Murk spoke of the Dutch participation in the C-IMAGE project, which studies the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. Murk’s research revealed some interesting interactions of dispersants and oil with plankton that may have compromised the effectiveness of the dispersants. Dispersants are a common tool used after oil spills to break up oil slicks on the water surface and increase the oil’s rate of biodegradation.
Her presentation included a live demonstration comparing the official dispersant Corexit 9500 and the new “Ecotech” absorbent.
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In conclusion: Greater involvement of industry stakeholders is needed
The speakers confirmed that considerable time has been lost in search for an adequate solution for oil spills, along with the assessment of the past incidents and mitigation of their consequences.
When asked to give their opinion on a potential oil spill in the Arctic, they agreed that during the Arctic winter, adequate oil spill response in the Arctic environment is nearly impossible.
Steps are being taken in the right direction when it comes to oil response in general, they continued. What is more, they voiced a need for a greater involvement of industry stakeholders in the research and project development for this to gain momentum.