Latest report reveals effectiveness of herding technology in oil spill response

Testing of herders with crude oil in ice conditions at the National Oil Spill Response Research and Renewable Energy Test Facility (Ohmsett) in Leonardo, New Jersey, USA. (Credit: CRREL Facility)

The latest report published by the Arctic Response Technology Joint Industry Programme (JIP) summarises results of a research programme by SL Ross Environmental Research that examined the feasibility of herding surfactant technology as a means for effectively contracting oil spilled on water among drift ice. This research is funded jointly by government and industry.

The results indicate that oil spill responders should consider herding technology as a safe, low-risk and efficient method for enhancing proven in-situ burning in light to medium ice concentrations where spills could rapidly spread and use of fire containment booms is impractical. As with most oil spill response techniques, rapid response improves the chances of success when using herders for in-situ burning.

Key findings include:

  • Herders are effective in the open sea, in fresh and marine waters, with or without the presence of ice, up until there are breaking waves present.
  • Herding agents can thicken oil slicks in sea ice concentrations of up to 70% ice coverage and in temperatures as low as -17 degrees Celsius, providing favourable conditions for effective ignition and in-situ burning without the need for containment booms.
  • Herders are low in toxicity and used in extremely small quantities, thus represent very little risk to the environment. Both commercially available herding agents (ThickSlick 6535 and SilTech OP-40) contain ingredients commonly used in household and personal care products. Ingredients of Thickslick 6535 are used in household cleaners as well as in cosmetics, fine fragrances and other toiletries.¬†Surfactants of the type used in OP-40 are used in household and automotive care products as well as in hair conditioners and skin care products.
  • Herders have been shown to improve the performance and efficiency of certain mechanical skimmers, and may also improve dispersant application from ships.
  • Although herders should be used to enhance oil spill recovery, there are limitations to their use, particularly in sea conditions over Beaufort Force 4, where breaking waves are present.

View the full report, or for more information on herders, read this factsheet.