In order to prevent against oil spills, oil rigs constantly monitor for traces of oil in the surrounding water. Oil spill detection is crucial for environmental protection, and to prevent expensive oil losses.
How can oil rigs detect oil spills?
In order to prevent a serious oil spill, oil rigs constantly monitor the water around for traces of oil. Detecting oil can be tricky, as both measurements and observations can vary; depending on the chemical composition of the oil, its solubility in water can be very different, as can droplet sizes in emulsions. Oil spills tend to leak large volumes of oil swiftly, so it's important to catch any leaks as early as possible. With this in mind, oil rigs are fitted with sophisticated oil spill detection devices, which can detect traces of oil far before it reaches levels visible to the naked eye.
UV florescence is one of the most widely-used techniques for detecting oil in water. It relies on the fact that crude oil molecules naturally fluoresce under UV radiation, meaning that a wide variety of oils can be monitored with this equipment.
UV light is used to excite the molecules under examination, causing a specific wavelength (fluorescent radiation) to be emitted should crude oil molecules be present. This radiation will be more intense if higher levels of crude oil are present. A sensitive detector measures the intensity of the radiation and transmits this data as signals to a field transmitter, which converts the signal to measurable results.
This technique is low-maintenance, and designed for continuous operation. Should oil levels rise too high, monitoring equipment will sound an alarm enabling workers to swiftly combat the issue.
Some oil companies also use remote monitoring techniques, such as satellite-mounted synthetic-aperture radar (SAR), to detect possible oil spills. SAR is one of the most widely-used remote detection tools, as it is cost-effective and can operate at night and in cloudy conditions. It works by sending radio waves to the target area in pulses, and analysing the signals received back in order to build up high spatial resolution 2-dimensional images. SAR is especially useful for remote or inaccessible locations, and for scanning large areas; for example, to detect a pipeline leak far out at sea.
Where are detectors located?
UV florescence detectors are generally located in two main areas; surface water runoffs, drains and culverts, and ports and harbours. Both of these allow for swift detection of oil spills. If cooling water is used to keep oil rig processes running, detectors should also be installed at the water source, as allowing oil into cooling water intake may cause total shutdown of the rig.
Why is oil spill detection important?
Oil leaks are amongst the most serious forms of environmental pollution, and need to be detected and dealt with as soon as possible. Whether an oil spill occurs in fresh water or in the ocean, it can cause widespread damage to marine life and ecosystems, and can very quickly spread over a large body of water. Cleanup is difficult, and may take months or years. Swift oil spill detection is also important from an industrial point of view; oil spills pose a health and safety risk for workers, and can easily cause a company to lose thousands of pounds' worth of painstakingly extracted oil. In many countries, environmental legislation requires oil extraction companies to have up-to-date spill detection equipment in place.
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