Jip 4 At-sea monitoring of surface dispersant effectiveness

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At-sea monitoring of surface

dispersant effectiveness

Oil Spill Response Joint Industry Project

The global oil and gas industry association for environmental and social issues

14th Floor, City Tower, 40 Basinghall Street, London EC2V 5DE, United Kingdom

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7633 2388   Facsimile: +44 (0)20 7633 2389

E-mail: info@ipieca.org   Internet: www.ipieca.org

International Association of Oil & Gas Producers

London office 

14th Floor, City Tower, 40 Basinghall Street, London EC2V 5DE, United Kingdom

Telephone: +44 (0)20 3763 9700   Facsimile: +44 (0)20 3763 9701   

E-mail: reception@iogp.org   Internet: www.iogp.org

Brussels office

Boulevard du Souverain 165, 4th Floor, B-1160 Brussels, Belgium

Telephone: +32 (0)2 566 9150   Facsimile: +32 (0)2 566 9159

E-mail: reception@iogp.org   Internet: www.iogp.org

© IPIECA-IOGP 2015  All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any

form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the

prior consent of IPIECA/IOGP.


At-sea monitoring of surface

dispersant effectiveness

IPIECA-IOGP Oil Spill Response Joint Industry Project



About this report

In response to the Deepwater Horizon incident at the Macondo Prospect off the Gulf of Mexico in

April 2010, the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) formed the Global Industry

Response Group (GIRG). This Group was tasked with identifying ways to prevent the recurrence of

such an incident and to identify learning opportunities both with respect to the cause of, and

response to, the incident. Part of this effort involved the formation of a subgroup on Oil Spill

Response (OSR). This group was comprised of nominees from IOGP member companies, from the

IPIECA Oil Spill Working Group (OSWG), from Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL), and from other

industry organizations, associations and spill response cooperatives, as appropriate. 

The IOGP GIRG-OSR task force reported on its findings to both the IOGP Management Committee

and the IPIECA Executive Committee at a joint session in February 2011. While certain actions

recommended by the GIRG-OSR report fell within the remit of existing organizations, it was

recognized that the most efficient way to execute the resultant work was for the industry to establish

a limited duration Joint Industry Project (JIP), governed by the funding companies. 

This report addresses Finding 4 of the IOGP Global Industry Response Group (GIRG) report which

outlines the principles of regulations concerning dispersants and their use.



Factors determining the effectiveness of dispersant


Composition of the dispersant product


Sea states




Oil type and its physical properties


Testing the effectiveness of dispersant


Laboratory tests


Mesoscale tests


Determining effectiveness at sea


Open water experiments


Operational monitoring


Shipboard field effectiveness tests


SMART Protocol


Planning considerations






Operational support and logistics


Conclusions and recommendations


References and further reading



At-sea monitoring of surface dispersant effectiveness


The use of dispersants is one of several possible at-sea response techniques used to combat an

oil spill. Dispersant application can be a useful way of minimizing the overall impact of a spill

incident by removing oil from the sea’s surface, preventing it from reaching coastal habitats and

shorelines, protecting worker safety, and enhancing the natural biodegradation processes that

ultimately break down the oil and disperse it into the environment. Like all techniques in the

response toolkit, dispersant use has some limitations, but it also has capabilities that make it

particularly useful in responding to larger oil spills at sea.

Deployment of any technique in the response toolkit should aim to minimize the damage that

could be caused by spilled oil if no response is undertaken. The decision concerning which

response techniques may be the most appropriate should be based on a net environmental

benefit analysis (NEBA), i.e. choosing the response techniques that are likely to result in the least

overall ecological and socio-economic damage. Further information on this process is given in the

IPIECA-IOGP Good Practice Guide on NEBA (IPIECA-IOGP, 2015).


and recovery





Figure 1  The three primary at-sea response techniques for responding to a surface oil spill

The goal of surface oil spill response is to remove the floating oil, sometimes transferring it to another,

less sensitive and/or less populated environmental compartment, in order to reduce the potential

damage. The three primary at-sea response techniques are shown in Figure 1 and listed below:


Mechanical containment of spilled oil with floating barriers (booms) and collection using

recovery devices (skimmers): recovered oil is stored for subsequent processing or disposal.


Controlled (or in-situ) burning: oil is corralled using fire-resistant booms and ignited.

Controlled burning converts the floating oil into airborne combustion products (primarily

carbon dioxide and water vapour with relatively small amounts of soot and other gases) which

are rapidly diluted in the air.


Dispersant use: transfers the floating oil into the upper water column (typically less than

10 metres depth) as very small droplets with maximum diameters of 0.05 to 0.1mm (50 to

100 microns) or less. These dispersed oil droplets are rapidly diluted to low concentrations in

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