Oil leak alert! Oil leak response team to the rescue!
Sounds simple, does it? Not so fast. There are several parameters that determine whether an oil leak response team will be activated, what actions it will take, and whether these actions will be effective.
• First of all, the question is - how good the situational awareness of the oil leak response team? How soon is it alerted of what happened, where it happened, and most importantly – how much hydrocarbon fluid has already leaked in to water?
• Next, the oil leak alert response team must assess the risks caused by the oil spill. Will it degrade or undergo damaging chemical reactions with other compounds that will make it even harder to clean up? Where will the winds and currents move the hydrocarbon layer? What environmental features and people are at risk?
• Then the oil leak alert response team must formulate response options – can the oil spill be cleaned up? How?
• In order to decide on the correct response the oil alert response team must assess the probable outcomes of each option. How much of the oil spill will each option remove? Will there be any side-effects to any of the response options? How long will it take for the remaining oil to degrade, where will it go to and what will it damage before it does?
• Finally, even after a response is decided upon, the oil leak alert response team needs to be able to monitor the effectiveness of whatever they are doing (or not doing) in reducing the damage caused by the oil spill.
Does answering these questions seem simple? It isn't. Oil spills are inconvenient creatures – they tend to occur in remote and difficult to reach locations and under difficult climatic conditions. Worse, the oil itself changes its character over time.
Being aware that something has happened, figuring out was exactly has happened, and figuring out what is happening, requires data, and that data, particularly the early baseline data in the pre-spill environment and the immediate post-spill environment can only be gathered through continuous remote monitoring of the environment for oil leaks.