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Offshore Oil & Gas rig

Battelle Oil & Gas Newsletter

March 2015 - Issue 4

New Sensor Provides Rapid Field Detection of Oil in Sediment

An innovative optical sensor designed by Battelle could give the oil and gas industry a powerful new tool for rapid field detection of oil in sediments. The sensor builds on existing Sediment Profile Imaging (SPI) technology to allow field researchers to identify the presence of hydrocarbons in near-real time rather than waiting for lab results. The technology could help oil companies speed up characterization of benthic environments and reduce the costs of analytical testing by eliminating samples that do not show signs of hydrocarbon contamination.

Battelle is in the process of adapting off-the-shelf SPI technology with an ultraviolet light source to detect fluorescing hydrocarbons. SPI systems have long been used to capture photographs of sediment. Using an SPI, researchers can cut a small wedge in the sediment and then take a picture using a camera, a mirror and a light source. Because hydrocarbons fluoresce with a unique white light signature under UV light, replacing the traditional flash with a UV light source allows researchers to visually see whether hydrocarbons are present in a given sample. Battelle is developing image analysis protocols that will provide semi-quantitative information about the concentration of oil in the sample. Using this system, field researchers can rapidly analyze sediment across a large area to see where oil is present and in what approximate concentrations. More expensive lab testing can then be reserved for only sediment samples of interest based on the field results.

Using optical sensing to screen sediment samples could reduce the time and costs associated with aquatic and marine baseline site characterization, contamination risk assessment, spill response and long-term monitoring. By providing results in real time, it will allow the industry to identify problem areas after a discharge event much more rapidly so remediation efforts can begin sooner. It will also provide rapid real-time environmental measurement for routine monitoring and assessment that could enhance capabilities to differentiate sources such as natural seeps, leaks and spills.

Battelle has already completed proof-of-concept studies to validate the method and calibrate the image analyzer. It could be made commercially available later this year. Battelle is actively seeking collaborators to conduct field testing for specific applications and bring the new optical sensor to market.