How are chemical engineers responding to Deepwater Horizon? We'd like to hear from you and start a dialog. ChEnected has published a few posts about the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill, including:
- Dispersant Chemicals Help in Oil Spill Cleanup, but What Are the Side Effects?
- Texas Tech and Fibertect to the Rescue in the Gulf?
But we recently asked a few experienced engineers to answer the question:
How Could Chemical Engineers Play a Role in Response to the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill?
Below are a few of the responses we received. Author and Remediation Consultant of Global Environmental Operations, David Russel:
There are several areas:
1) Immediate cleanup of the surface spills--reviewing and commenting upon technological improvements and recommending new technologies
2) Wetlands--improved biological systems and new innovations in cleaning and degrading oils.
3) Subsurface cleaning techniques involving low levels of oil removal or capture of oils at depths closer to the well heads in large volumes
4) Improvements to process safety and improvements of planning for response in conjunction with PSE, so that the conditions are a) safer, and b) response activities are adopted with a planned activity including prepositioned equipment. Development of a model response plan.
Ph.D and retired responder with 36 years in EPA's Emergency Response Program, Joseph P. LaFornara:
The use of dispersants at the wellhead is unwise. It is very likely causing the formation of the "mousse" that is hitting the marshes. The "mousse" is a water in oil emulsion that is stabilized by dispersant. Most dispersant directions say to apply it in the ratio of 1 part dispersant to 10 gallons of oil. It is pretty obvious from the live videos of the dispersant application at the leak 5000 feet below the surface that the ratio is closer to 1 part dispersant to 1000 or more gallons of oil. At these concentrations the dispersant will most likely dissolve in the oil and then pull water into the oil and stabilize the emulsion.
The "mousse" changes the characteristics of the oil and makes it more viscous and sticky. The "mousse" is much more difficult to remove than the oil itself.
Even if the dispersant is effective in aiding in the dispersing of the oil into the water column, dispersing a spill of this magnitude will pollute a huge volume of the Gulf's water. Chemical Engineers can join those who oppose the further use of dispersants 5000 feet below the surface.
Now it's your turn. Regardless of your particular field is your expertise, what do you have to say?
In addition, the Department of Energy has set up a place online where you can submit your ideas with respect to the oil spill cleanup effort. In this online form, you can describe your solution and its practical potential for widescale application: