There is no consistent and reliable method to recover submerged oil on the seafloor and river bottom , a task that includes the multiple phases of detecting, tracking, containing and ultimately recovering submerged oil. Response to spills of heavy oils is often ad-hoc, with detection and removal strategies developed at the time of the spill. The Coast Guard, in partnership with industry, is working to develop a blueprint for methods within the oil response industry to recover heavy oils located on the bottom.
Design concepts and prototypes were developed in Phase 1 for the detection of heavy oils. From a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA), four companies were chosen to develop proof-of-concept instruments; their technologies included sonar, laser fluorometry and real-time mass spectroscopy. After testing at the National Oil Spill Response, Research and Renewable Energy Test Facility (Ohmsett ) in New Jersey, two were selected to move on to the prototype phase. The configuration of the prototype tests included four types of heavy oil, four types of sea bottoms, and intermittently placed rocks and seaweed. The sonar and laser fluorometry systems were successfully tested and are expected to increase the reliability of oil detection.
Phase II focused on the recovery of heavy oils with assistance of the detection technology. A second BAA was issued, and three vendors were awarded contracts for the design concept and prototype testing of their solution. All three tested their prototypes at the Ohmsett facility with two different types of sunken oils. One company had a lightweight system using Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), another designed a manned submersible, and the third used a bottom crawler system based on dredging technology. All three prototypes recovered oil. Two were chosen for field deployments (ROV and crawler) and are currently being tested.
Ultimately, the Federal On-Scene Commander (FOSC) determines the nature of the oil spill and decides what technology would be best suited to mitigate the impact of the oil on the environment. Through this research, the RDC is better able to provide the FOSC with a broader and more effective range of capabilities to combat this threat.