Improving oil spill containment


- Ottawa, Ontario

2D testing of oil spill containment booms in OCRE's Large Wave and Current Flume with oil (red) and water flowing from right to left. The surface oil slick is slowed down by a series of screens and then contained by the main boom. Clean water continues to travel downstream beyond the boom.

To improve the effectiveness of cleaning up marine oil spills, researchers with the NRC's Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre are investigating the performance of high‑speed oil spill containment boom designs.

The first stage of an effective oil spill response is to deploy containment booms that limit spreading and concentrate the oil to facilitate clean up. However, there is a pressing need for boom systems that can successfully contain oil in fast flowing water, like rivers, and along coastlines affected by tides. There is also a need to enable speedier cleanup in slow moving waters.

In collaboration with S.L. Ross Environmental Research Ltd. and with funding from the United States' Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, researchers conducted an extensive literature review, performed 2D and 3D numerical simulations using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) techniques, and carried out 2D and 3D scale model experiments in the Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre's large wave and current flume and 21 m ice tank in Ottawa.

2D CFD simulation of the same case depicted above with oil and water flowing from right to left. The colours indicate the horizontal velocity of the water. With blue indicating high water speeds and red indicating slower water speeds, this shows that the screens serve to slow the surface water speed, which allows oil to be contained by the main boom.

Researchers assessed the effectiveness of several novel oil containment boom concepts in fast flowing water with varying amounts of light, medium, and heavy oil. The results suggest that some of the new boom designs can successfully collect oil in water at speeds up to 3 times faster than conventional boom designs. The next step is to confirm these findings in full scale testing and field trials; but already, this research represents a significant contribution to improving oil spill containment technology.

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