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

Key Goals

SL Ross Environmental Research Ltd. was the contractor for this project.  This project is complete and three reports have been produced, available on the JIP website.

The first report entitled: “In Situ Burning of Oil in Ice-Affected Waters: State of Knowledge is intended for all researchers, specialists and technically inclined stakeholders who are interested in scientific, technological, environmental and human health details of ISB response in ice conditions, to access the science and technology behind ISB in a logical and sequential manner.
This report includes a treatise on the science of how in situ oil burning works, consisting of a detailed literature review of all relevant scientific and field studies and experiments on the subject.  The key physical and chemical processes involved in in situ burning are discussed, as well as the factors that control ignitability and combustibility of oil spills on water and how various oil weathering processes, such as water-in-oil emulsification, affect ignition and burning

The second “In Situ Burning of Oil in Ice-Affected Waters: Technology Summary and Lessons Learned from Key Experiments” is a summary of scientific studies including both laboratory and field experiments of In situ Burning (ISB) in ice-affected offshore environments.  Covering examples of how controlled ISB has proved effective for oil spill removal in ice-affected waters since the 1970s it also details a historic review of different technologies, equipment R&D including fire-resistant booms, ignition systems and chemical herder application.

The report confirms that there is sufficient information gained from laboratory and field testing to understand the basic principles of in situ burning oil in a wide variety of snow and ice conditions.  The report summarizes that the technology exists to conduct controlled in situ burning of oil spilled in a wide variety of ice conditions.  The research also exemplifies that most of the risks associated with burning can be mitigated by following approved procedures, using trained personnel, and maintaining appropriate separation distances.

The third report “In Situ Burning in Ice-Affected Waters: Status of Regulations in Arctic and Sub-Arctic Countries” captures a status of regulations related to the deployment of In Situ Burning (ISB) as an oil spill response countermeasure.  The study focused on both Arctic and sub-Arctic Countries, including: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.

The research effort concluded that of the eleven countries evaluated, the United States (Alaska Region) is the only region with documented procedures for approval of utilizing ISB as a response strategy. The report also revealed that two regions in Canada do have established guidelines for ISB use with other efforts currently underway to clarify guidelines for contingency plan use in the Canadian Arctic. It was also found that in all of the other nine countries, ISB is given little serious thought or there exists a general aversion towards its use.

The main findings from the reports are:

  • Confirmation that technology exists to conduct controlled ISB of oil spilled in a wide variety of ice conditions and that ISB is one of the response techniques with the highest potential for oil spill removal in arctic conditions.
  • There is a considerable body of scientific and engineering knowledge on ISB to ensure safe and effective response in open water, broken pack ice and complete ice cover, gleaned from over 40 years of research, including large-scale field experiments.
  • Most of the risks associated with burning oil can be mitigated by following approved procedures, using trained personnel, and maintaining appropriate separation distances.