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State of Alabama
Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science Conference
by Tom Linton
Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In The Cold Grey Light of Dawn

That is the way the 2014 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science Conference started.

There are over 900 individuals registered for the conference --- this Second of these Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative sponsored conferences.

They are designed to bring together that massive force of scientists and engineers who are involved in researching the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The registrants have come from 37 states in the U.S. and 9 foreign countries.

The attendees who come from more northern climes where snow and ice abound thought that a trip to this meeting in Mobile, Alabama, would afford them a chance to visit the beach in temperatures that, compared to those at “home” would seem balmy.

Conditions at 9 am ----- when the conference doors opened were 28 degrees F, wind chill 21 F “Freezing rain through the day ---“(Weather Bug) ----- not a day for the beach.

There was, however, plenty to keep attendees occupied.

There are 154 oral presentations scheduled by the researchers who have been conducting research pertaining to various aspects of the fate and effects of the oil spill and the various procedures ---i.e. application of dispersants ---- and others heretofore not done.

In addition to the presentations by the long time professionals --- university professors and agency employees --- the future generation of scientist are greatly involved.

There are 356 student created posters that represent the components of particular studies in which they were involved whereby they are “Learning the trade.”

And so what has come from this grand assembling of scientific minds and engineering innovators?

Personally I was delighted and gratified to learn that the findings and conclusions I put forth from that study I conducted back in the “dark ages” of oil dispersants in the IXTOC 1 oil spill in 1979 have been verified in subsequent studies by others.

But what of new revelations that have been made from this present massive research effort?

One presentation that took a different approach from dispersing an oil slick was surfactant herders.

Instead of dispersing the oil into essentially small droplets, surfactant herders cause the oil to clump.

Once it forms the clumps it can be more easily collected or in the case of this presentation, the clumped oil was burned.

“Slicks in excess of 3mm thick, the minimum required for ignition of weathered crude oil on water, were routinely achieved. The free-drifting oil was allowed to spread for 15min until it was far too thin to ignite (0.4mm), and then the hydrocarbon-based herder was applied around the slick periphery. The slick contracted and thickened for approximately 10min at which time the upwind end was ignited. A 9-minute long burn ensued that consumed an estimated 90% of the oil, (Tim Nedwed, ExxonMobil, personal communication). Journal: Cold Regions Science and Technology, vol. 67, no. 1, pp. 3-23, 2011.

The surfactant herder compound can be applied from a helicopter in very small amounts around the periphery of the slick” instead of in a mass application as required with dispersant.

This has the prospect of becoming another “tool” for use in controlling oil spills and lessens their environmental consequences.

The immediate reaction, “Burning the oil”!

But remember that at both major oil spills, IXTOC1 & Deepwater Horizon, there were already raging fires.

To use or not to use this “tool” ----  but these are the tough decisions that managers have to make to  protect our beaches and the wetlands.

Remembering Jim Guidry

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