Oil spill specialists join scientists for dispersant testing

Two members of the Gulf Sea Grant oil spill science outreach team recently visited Ohmsett, an oil spill science testing facility overseen by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). Florida Sea Grant’s Monica Wilson and Louisiana Sea Grant’s Emily Maung-Douglass traveled to New Jersey at the invitation of Tim Nedwed, Oil Spill Response Senior Technical Professional Advisor with the ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company, to observe how oil’s exposure to sun and air impacts dispersant effectiveness.

Oil spill specialists Emily Maung-Douglass and Monica Wilson wait for dispersant testing to begin at the Ohmsett facility in New Jersey.

Located approximately one hour south of New York City at Naval Weapons Station Earle, Ohmsett is home to the largest tank testing facility in North America. Its concrete test tank measures 203 meters long by 20 meters wide by 2.4 meters deep and holds 2.6 million gallons of saltwater. A wave generator creates near-realistic sea environments that government, university, and industry scientists use to better understand oil behavior in a marine environment, test oil spill response products, conduct trainings, and more. However, researchers using the facility are always careful to point out that it has its limitations at producing real world conditions. So many factors come into play in the marine environment, it’s next to impossible to reproduce them all accurately.

Other invitees to Ohmsett included university researchers, industry scientists, and both private and government oil spill responders. The group spent two days at the facility observing dispersant-effectiveness tests conducted in the tank. They additionally attended a workshop focused on research and knowledge related to dispersant use. The meeting provided an opportunity for attendees to get a better understanding of industry’s perspective on oil spill response and to learn lessons regarding oil’s behavior in a marine environment.

Speakers included professionals from industry, academia, government, and the private sector. A SETAC Founders Award recipient in 2017, an American Chemical Society Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, a program officer from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), leads from NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, and GoMRI-funded scientists shared science as part of the program. The result was a diverse presentation set that provided attendees with several decades of research into the topic.

“The two-day workshop was a great experience. We were able to learn a lot about dispersants and see them in action at the testing facility,” Monica said. “We were able to witness the organization, details, and teamwork that is needed for a successful dispersant testing.”

Monica Ohmsett
Florida Sea Grant’s Monica Wilson watches the weathered oil as it responds to the dispersant treatement. Monica’s background in physical oceanography helps her explain how wind and wave action can impact oil movement. (Louisiana Sea Grant College Program/Emily Maung-Douglass)

Emily and Monica also presented at the meeting, highlighting dispersant-related publications and seminars produced by the oil spill team. With researchers from so many different backgrounds in attendance, the two also used this opportunity to gather input to inform the development of future Sea Grant outreach products.

Emily Ohmsett
Louisiana Sea Grant’s Emily Maung-Douglass focuses on chemistry and eco-toxicology for the team, so the oil-dispersant interaction was particularly interesting to her. (Florida Sea Grant/Monica Wilson)

“I learned so much from the time spent at Ohmsett,” said Emily of the visit. “The information shared and conversations spurred on by the workshop provided valuable insight. Not to mention, witnessing Ohmsett in action during experiment testing was an impressive sight.”





Featured image: Researchers pour oil into the tank at Ohmsett at the start of dispersant testing. (Louisiana Sea Grant College Program/Emily Maung-Douglass)

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