Fluorescence Technology to Pinpoint Oil Leaks at Sea

January 25, 2013

Technology design and development firm Cambridge Consultants unveiled the first stage of work that’s set to give a much-needed boost to offshore oil leak detection. It has built an oil spill detection technology platform that is capable of detecting the natural fluorescence of even tiny amounts of oil in or on water.

Cambridge Consultants has a long track record of delivering innovative fluorescence detection solutions for challenging applications such as clinical diagnostics equipment, fertility monitors and pregnancy tests, and authentication of valuable documents. Crude oil is naturally fluorescent – so the company has now used its fluorescence experience to build the new oil spill detection technology platform.

“The environmental impact of oil and gas leaks has never been more visible to the public – with the recent disaster in the Gulf of Mexico – yet the solutions currently available do not meet all the requirements in terms of performance and reliability,” said Dr Frances Metcalfe, Associate Director, Oil and Gas, at Cambridge Consultants.

Currently, aircraft use long-range radar and scanners to detect fluorescence – but they are expensive and difficult to operate. Many oil companies still primarily rely on unsophisticated visual reports which are not consistently accurate. Many leaks are not detected until a slick comes to the surface and is visible to the human eye. The new technology aims to provide a compact, robust system that can be permanently installed for example along subsea pipelines.

Dr Metcalfe said: “To be effective and trusted, any detection system must detect spills early enough but be immune to false alarms – otherwise it will not be used.
“Our work so far shows that any reliable oil spill detection system will need to use more than one sensing method, and the best combination will depend largely on where and how it is going to be used. An oil spill ‘alarm’ system of sensors distributed across the seabed – or a series of oil platforms – is going to need a different design solution from a system for scanning a harbour or stretch of coastline from a distance to track oil spills that might be heading for the shore. Our world-leading skills in sensor design, data fusion and probabilistic signal processing enable us to identify and deliver the optimal solution for a given set of circumstances.”

The new oil spill detection technology platform is the latest in a series of high-performance sensor developments Cambridge Consultants has undertaken for the oil and gas industry. “Developing new technologies to tackle difficult but high-value issues for this industry is a growing area of activity for us and we are actively growing our team,” said Dr Metcalfe.

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