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Arctic water. // Image from Pixabay.

Federal government funds U of M research into oil spill responses

August 12, 2019 — 

Seven University of Manitoba research projects aimed at testing new technologies and techniques to improve our responses to oil spills have been funded by the federal government.

Terry Duguid, Member of Parliament for Winnipeg South, announced on Aug. 12 that the Government of Canada is investing $6,385,000 to support the trailblazing research. The funds will also support 12 scientific training positions at the University of Manitoba.

The Canadian Arctic is experiencing extraordinary changes, and the reduced sea ice cover and ice-free summers have led to a tripling in vessel traffic since 1990.

“With this increasing activity,” says one of the funded researchers, U of M professor Gary Stern, “comes a greater risk of accidental spills of fuel and other transportation-related contaminants. One of the challenges in the event of an accidental spill will be to distinguish between natural background and contaminating hydrocarbons caused by the spill.” As such, Stern’s project will create a chemical profile of a vulnerable shipping corridor in the Kivalliq Region of northwestern Hudson Bay. This profile will prove invaluable in developing oil spill mitigation strategies, in assessing the success of remediation strategies, and in helping establish responsibility for the spill, he says.

“We sometimes forget that Manitoba, too, is a coastal province,” Duguid says. “It is at the heart of the Hudson Bay watershed and directly connected to the North Atlantic. The University of Manitoba is a recognized leader in marine science, with a 140-year history of driving discovery. Thanks to this investment by the Government of Canada, the oil spill research completed here will help protect oceans close to home and on all three coasts of Canada.”

Professor Feiyue Wang of the U of M’s Centre for Earth Observation Science in the Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth, and Resources, is heading five of the projects.

“Thanks to the Multi-Partner Research Initiative, University of Manitoba researchers will be able to develop new analytical techniques to characterize the fate and behaviour of oil spills, to develop and improve oil spill response techniques, and to train the next generation of highly qualified personnel in oil spill research, response and decision-making,” Wang says. “This MPRI funding is timely, as the University of Manitoba’s new Churchill Marine Observatory will soon be operational and equipped to facilitate studies to address technological, scientific and economic issues pertaining to Arctic marine transportation, oil and gas exploration and development throughout the Arctic.”

More on the projects

Onsite burning as a response technique for oil spills in Canadian waters

Project lead: Feiyue Wang (University of Manitoba)

Project summary:

Onsite or in situ burning (ISB) of oil spilled on water can rapidly remove significant amounts of oil from the marine environment. ISB can be an effective technique for oil spill response in certain situations. The goals of this project are to provide a critical review of ISB as an oil spill response technique in Canadian waters, train the next generation of researchers in oil spill response research and improve response options through ISB techniques for eliminating oil spilled at sea. This project will make recommendations to improve ISB in Canada.

Funding amount: $305,000

Partner:

SL Ross Environmental Research, Ltd.

Small-scale testing of alternative response options for spilled oils in Canada

Project lead: Feiyue Wang (University of Manitoba)

Project summary:

The goal of the project is to provide the oil spill response community with information to quickly and efficiently choose the most effective alternative response measures. This objective will be accomplished by conducting small-scale laboratory tests of different types of crude oil as they weather to a point where alternative response measures are no longer effective.

Funding amount: $680,000

Partner:

  • SL Ross Environmental Research, Ltd.

Experimental field study of onsite burning with fire booms to reduce burn residues

Project lead: Feiyue Wang (University of Manitoba)

Project summary:

Onsite burning can rapidly remove significant amounts of oil from the marine environment. However, this technique results in burn residues, black carbon soot and other emissions from unburned or partially burned oil. The goal of this project is to investigate the effectiveness of burning oil on Canadian waters as an alternative response measure for managing oil spills. The project will involve burn experiments and measure the efficiency of removing oil by burning, the amount and quality of smoke emitted, the amount of residue remaining and its physical, chemical and toxicological properties.

Funding amount: $846,000

Partner:

  • SL Ross Environmental Research, Ltd

Experimental field study of aerial herder and igniter use for onsite burning in drift ice and open water

Project lead: Feiyue Wang (University of Manitoba)

Project summary:

Increased vessel traffic and oil exploration in ice-covered waters threaten to increase the risk of oil spills in Canada. One of the challenges to oil spill responders in ice-covered waters is the potential for spills to occur in drift ice, which greatly complicates the task of removing oil with conventional containment and recovery techniques. The goal of this project is to investigate the effectiveness of burning oil in ice-covered waters, as an alternative response measure for managing oil spills. The research will focus on the use of helicopter-applied herding agents to shrink and thicken large offshore oil slicks in drift ice as well as in calmer ice-free water. The findings will verify and improve onsite burning techniques for Canada’s oil spill response community.

Funding amount: $1,400,000

Partners:

  • SL Ross Environmental Research, Ltd.
  • DF Dickins Associates, Ltd

Chemical analysis of oil and oil products and their changes in the environment

Project lead: Feiyue Wang (University of Manitoba)

Project summary:

The chemical characterization of oil and oil products is essential to understanding the behaviour, fate and toxicity of oils spilled in the environment, as well as assessing the effectiveness of oil spill response techniques. This characterization is complicated by the exceptionally complex composition of oil. The goal of this project is to study the chemical composition of oil and oil products and how they change in the environment. The project is essential to understanding the behaviour, fate and toxicity of oil spills and assessing the effectiveness of various oil spill response techniques. Having a coordinated and integrated chemical analysis approach will allow for cross comparability of results across all projects within the Multi-Partner Research Initiative.

Funding amount: $1,900,000

Baseline monitoring of hydrocarbon contaminants and microbial genomics along the Kivalliq transportation corridor

Project lead: Gary Stern (University of Manitoba)

Project summary:

Western Hudson Bay communities experience high volumes of ship traffic due to vast mineral exploration projects in the region. In the event of an oil spill, one of the challenges will be to discriminate between naturally occurring and contaminating hydrocarbons resulting from the spill. The goal of this project is to train Indigenous students to collect background data needed to distinguish between naturally occurring and contaminating oil products in the environment, thereby determining if natural biodegradation is a possible mitigation strategy along the Kivalliq transportation corridor. The project database will contain detailed profiles on hydrocarbon and non-hydrocarbon contaminants, as well as chemical concentrations in sediments, water and benthic invertebrates.

Funding amount: $770,000

Partner:

  • McGill University

Onsite and offsite investigation of oil biodegradation potential in Arctic marine environments

Project lead: Søren Rysgaard (University of Manitoba)

Project summary:

There is a lack of adequate knowledge on the influence of certain Arctic characteristics on oil biodegradation, such as low temperatures, sea ice, oceanographic conditions, the oligotrophic environment, poor microbial adaptation to the degradation of oil compounds and massive phytoplankton blooms. The goal of this project is to determine how Canada can respond to oil spills in Arctic marine environments by understanding the abilities of cold water microbes to degrade oil compounds under extreme Arctic conditions. By performing a series of chemical and molecular analyses, as well as biofilm profiling and imaging techniques, this research will seek a deeper understanding of control methods and the microbiology of oil biodegradation under Arctic conditions.

Funding amount: $484,000

Partners:

  • Aarhus University
  • National Research Council Canada

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