Technology can help speed soil recovery after oil spills

August 12, 2020

After an oil spill or leak, it's important to act fast. If the oil has gotten into soil, scientists need to rapidly assess how much oil there is and how far it spread. It's a process that has always been costly and time-consuming.

Nuwan Wijewardane at University of Nebraska-Lincoln knew there had to be a better way. He and his team found a new method using state-of-the-art technology that is faster and cheaper. It lets scientists get to work quicker on restoring the soil.

"Accidental releases of oil at production and distribution sites can pose serious environmental issues if not treated," explains Wijewardane. "This demands remedial actions to assist in the rapid restoration of the ecosystem to its pre-contamination state. It is critical to be able to estimate concentration levels in impacted soil quickly and easily."

The traditional methods for analyzing these soils are done in the laboratory and involve multiple steps. It requires collecting samples from the spill site and then taking them off-site for analysis. These increase the cost, time, and labor of the project.

"It costs about $50 per sample," says Wijewardane. "And that does not include the cost of the labor needed to collect samples from the field. In addition, it can take days or maybe weeks to get results."

The research team thought they could accomplish two things. One was using a faster and cheaper technology called Vis-NIR spectroscopy. The other was finding a way to measure the oil content in soil without having to take the time to gather so many samples from the spill site.

The Vis-NIR spectroscopy technology works by sending wavelengths of energy at a sample and measuring what is absorbed or reflected. Different chemical substances do this very specifically based on their makeup. So, it's able to tell scientists a lot about a sample.

The data they receive from the technology has to be compared to a model. They found they could construct accurate model samples mostly in the laboratory, with only a few samples from the site needed. Adding just a few field samples, rather than relying solely on them, is a process called "spiking." This reduction of time and labor necessary at the oil spill site makes their method rapid and cheap.

During "spiking," the data from the field samples is added into the original model. This helps customize the model to make it more accurate for the specific location.

The cost of the VisNIR-based method is just a few dollars per sample. The results are almost instant. Another added benefit is that the tool can be taken right into the field to speed up the overall project.

Wijewardane has been working on soil spectroscopy for some time. He is interested in how to use it to estimate soil properties. He is glad this study highlights another application of this technology that can help the environment recover from crude oil contamination.

The next steps in the work are to make the technology more suitable to use directly in the field. Conservation and protecting the environment is an important task globally, especially since humans still use crude oil as a key source of energy.

"As long as we extract and use crude oil, there is a risk of environmental contamination that can threaten the ecosystem's balance," Wijewardane says. "When it happens, we need immediate actions to detect it, evaluate the situation, and recommend remedial actions. This is where a rapid, cheap, and accurate technique in the field can accelerate the process."

Read more about this research in the a publication of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and Soil Science Society of America. This research was supported by the Chevron Energy Technology Company.
-end-


American Society of Agronomy

Related Oil Spill Articles from Brightsurf:

Oil spill clean- up gets doggone hairy
A study investigating sustainable-origin sorbent materials to clean up oil spill disasters has made a surprising discovery.

Political 'oil spill': Polarization is growing stronger and getting stickier
Experts have documented that political polarization is intensifying in the United States.

Oil spill: where and when will it reach the beach? Answers to prevent environmental impacts
When an accident involving oil spills occurs, forecasting the behaviour of the oil slick and understanding in advance where and when it will reach the coastline is crucial to organize an efficient emergency response that is able to limit environmental and economic repercussions.

Chemical herders could impact oil spill cleanup
Oil spills in the ocean can cause devastation to wildlife, so effective cleanup is a top priority.

Study shows continuing impacts of Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Nine years ago tomorrow -- April 20, 2010 -- crude oil began leaking from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig into the Gulf of Mexico in what turned out to be the largest marine oil spill in history.

New report examines the safety of using dispersants in oil spill clean ups
A multi-disciplinary team of scientists has issued a series of findings and recommendations on the safety of using dispersal agents in oil spill clean-up efforts in a report published this month by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.

What plants can teach us about oil spill clean-up, microfluidics
For years, scientists have been inspired by nature to innovate solutions to tricky problems, even oil spills -- manmade disasters with devastating environmental and economic consequences.

Top oil spill expert available to discuss new oil spill dispersant research
Internationally recognized oil spill expert, Nancy Kinner, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of New Hampshire is available to discuss new post-Deepwater Horizon (DWH) dispersant research and its use in future oil spill responses.

Gulf spill oil dispersants associated with health symptoms in cleanup workers
Workers who were likely exposed to dispersants while cleaning up the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill experienced a range of health symptoms including cough and wheeze, and skin and eye irritation, according to scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

New view of dispersants used after Deepwater Horizon oil spill
New research has uncovered an added dimension to the decision to inject large amounts of chemical dispersants above the crippled seafloor oil well during the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.

Read More: Oil Spill News and Oil Spill Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.