In Situ Burning of Oil in Ice – Affected Waters – State of Knowledge

At a Glance

Controlled in situ burning (ISB) of an oil slick as a response technology has been researched and employed in one form or another at a variety of oil spills since the late 1950s, including limited use during the Exxon Valdez accident and more extensive use during the Deepwater Horizon incident.

Many researchers and practitioners believe that ISB is especially suitable in ice conditions; early research and development on ISB, which focused on its use for spills on and under solid sea ice, demonstrated its effectiveness in large-scale experimental spills in the Beaufort Sea in 1975 and 1980.

More recently, high-level research has addressed using ISB for spills of various concentrations in pack ice and especially in slush and brash ice. The technique has proved very effective for thick oil spills in high ice concentrations and has been used successfully to remove oil spills resulting from pipeline, storage tank and ship accidents in ice-covered waters in Alaska, Canada and Scandinavia.

In Situ Burning at a Glance

  • ISB is a proven response technique that can rapidly eliminate more than 90 per cent of encountered oil.
  • The presence of colder temperatures and calmer conditions may actually increase the window of opportunity for the effective use of ISB.
  • Different oil-in-ice concentrations will influence the efficiency of ISB and these must be robustly tested.
  • ISB emissions are short lived and not likely to cause significant environmental effects or human health issues. Safety regulations and air quality monitoring requirements are in place for ISB to ensure the on-going safety of its use.
  • Compared to other response methods, lighter equipment and personnel requirements can make ISB a more practical response method in Arctic environments.