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Integrated oil spill response actions and environmental effects

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - GRACE (Integrated oil spill response actions and environmental effects)

Reporting period: 2019-03-01 to 2019-08-31

Recent large accidents with oil spills in the marine environment have shown that there is a need for better oil spill response technology, capacity and knowledge on how to balance the efficiency of the response with its environmental impact. There is a need for on-line monitoring of oil and for integrated oil spill response technologies, based on the environmental impact. Off-shore oil exploration in the Arctic together with climate change and reduction in sea ice coverage in the Arctic are opening up for the northern shipping routes, and thus creating a higher risk of oil accidents in the Arctic. This is important for people living in the Arctic, for companies involved in offshore activities, and for oil spill response authorities and their cross-border collaboration bodies. The overall objectives of the project were to:
• explore the true environmental impacts and benefits of a suite of marine oil spill response technologies in cold climates and ice-infested areas in the northern Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea. The response methods include mechanical collection of oil in water and below ice, in situ burning, use of chemical dispersants, natural biodegradation and combinations of these;
• assess in particular the impacts of naturally and chemically dispersed oil, in situ burning residues and non-collected oil, on fish, mussels, crustaceans and macro algae, using highly sensitive biomarker methods, and to develop specific methods for the rapid detection of the effects of oil pollution on biota;
• improve the observation and predictions of oil spill distribution and fate in the sea using novel on-line sensors on vessels, fixed structures or gliders, and smart data transfer to operational awareness systems;
• develop a strategic Net Environmental Benefit Analysis tool (sNEBA) for oil spill response strategy decision making in cold climates and ice-infested areas.

The main conclusions of the project are that developed systems for on-line monitoring on different platforms of oil in the water phase are on levels that are ready to be implemented and marketed. A novel under-ice oil recovery device for oil under ice collection was developed and will soon be ready for launching on the market. The application of dispersants for enhancing oil removal from seawater by biodegradation provided contradictory results, and more research is needed. Toxicity tests showed that dispersed oils can be more acute toxic than oil and therefore dispersants should be used with caution in sensitive areas such as the Arctic and the Baltic Sea. The results from the unique in situ burning experiment in Greenland and the environmental impacts showed that this is a method that can be used in remote areas under suitable conditions. A novel Environment & Oil Spill Response (EOS) analytical tool for environmental assessment to support oil spill response design was developed and launched on the internet.
The GRACE project has performed unique field tests for on-line monitoring of oil under water including satellite communication of the data streams. We have tested oil sensors installed in SmartBuoys, FerryBox and underwater (autonomous) vehicles such as gliders. On-line data transfer worked well and no deviating observations indicating an oil spill were observed. Comparison to laboratory analyses showed that signals from interfering compounds should be corrected for, and that the calibration of instruments in a harmonized way is desirable. FerryBox data is available on Furthermore, the first prototype of a biosensor for oil using hatched zebrafish embryos was developed. Biodegradation of oil and dispersed oil in ice, water and sediment was studied in laboratory scale. The results showed that oil in the water phase and in ice can be degraded somewhat at low temperatures, and the limiting factor is the accommodation of oil into the water phase. The use of dispersants did not enhance the biodegradation rate. Also the key microbial species and metabolic pathways which are associated with oil biodegradation were studied by sequencing of the DNA in the samples and by comparing to relevant databases. New information on the genetic level of the microbial communities’ ability to degrade oil compounds has been obtained. A pilot scale test with novel electrokinetic treatment of petroleum hydrocarbon contaminated sediment was performed in a coastal bay of the Baltic Sea. Based on the obtained results, it is difficult to make clear conclusions on the overall effect of the treatment, due to the large variation in the sediment properties between the test plots. However, valuable experiences for further exploitation of this method were obtained. GRACE also studied how dissolved oil components can affect marine fauna, like copepods, and mussels in the Northern Atlantic and the Baltic Sea. The establishment of latitudinal and seasonal baselines of the biomarkers allows distinguishing contaminant effects from a healthy state. We found important differences between the sampling locations that will help future investigations to account for natural variability. Experiments where biota was exposed to oil were performed at either high concentration for acute toxicity tests or at sub-lethal concentrations in order to study measurable effects on the different biomarkers in these organisms and in laboratory model organisms. The impact of naturally and chemically dispersed oil on different relevant trophic levels of biota has shown that dispersants and oil dispersion can increase toxicity. This work has led towards a novel establishment of adverse outcome links that should report an exposure and possible adverse outcome already on a molecular basis in biota. GRACE obtained permission from the Greenland authorities to perform controlled pilot tests on in situ burning and field experiments with mimicked stranded oil on tiles placed in the tidal zone in the coastal waters of Greenland. After the pilot scale oil spill field experiment and subsequent in situ burning the burn residues were collected. Environmental effects and exposure of the marine environment was monitored using blue mussels. A transient effect in some biological parameters was found in the water column below the burning. In vitro assays gave no elevated toxicity. Results from this unique in situ burning experiment showed that this is a method that can be used in remote areas under suitable conditions. A novel under-ice oil recovery device, which can be attached to already existing remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), has been tested in a test tank and will be launched to the market. The work on a strategic Net Environmental Benefit Analysis (sNEBA) decision tool has been completed and it was decided to launch the tool under the name Environmental & Oil Spill Response (EOS). This novel EOS analytical tool for environmental assessment to support oil spill response design is freely available at
Information about GRACE and the results have been disseminated through the GRACE web pages press releases, presentations at international cross-border working groups and to a number of seminars and conferences. An exploitation plan has been produced and prospects for companies involved in on-line monitoring technology and oil recovery and remediation technology looks promising.