Oil and gas industry developing technology to aid spill cleanup

April 16, 2014

Despite advances, oil spills remain notoriously difficult to clean up.

Consider the effects of the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, which left a major impact on Alaska's Prince William Sound for more than two decades. In fact, it was only recently that sea otter populations in the area have finally begun to make a recovery.

Both the political and financial consequences of such a spill are severe, and the oil and gas industry has taken great strides in ensuring that these incidents become rarer and rarer. Petrochemical companies have invested in new technologies and training programs that are meant to prepare a comprehensive response to spills. As pointed out by a recent article on R&D Magazine, there are not as many young workers who possess these skills and knowledge as the industry would like, which is spurring more investment in this area.

Consider some of the actions that oil and gas companies are taking to prepare for disasters.

Companies use technology to simulate future problems

Years ago, a business might train an employee for a certain task by assigning them to read a manual and take a quiz. We've moved on from those days. Now, businesses are becoming increasingly comfortable with using technology to prepare employees for different scenarios and coach them about the proper ways to respond.

Studies have shown that people retain more information when they engage in simulated scenarios than when they simply try to memorize information. As the news source points out, this has been a longstanding practice in fields like flight or medicine, where precise, repetitive motion is highly important. 

The oil and gas industry requires something similar. When a spill occurs, employees need to act fast to respond to the situation, cut off the leak and begin cleanup. They will be better equipped to handle this problem if they have already practiced it under controlled conditions.

Some companies are considering going even further. Instead of holding individual training sessions, they are choosing to invest in augmented reality technology that will deliver information to workers when they need it. Google, for example, is famously working on Google Glass, which promises the wearer a digital overlay that displays a small "screen" in the corner of the wearer's field of vision. Microsoft, HP and Logitech are also working on their own solutions.

The benefit of this technology is that companies can upload helpful information to employees as needed, and thus rely less on specific training sessions. In addition, engineers working on a developing problem can access real-time data that helps them address it.

Anytime a disaster strikes, lack of information is one of the biggest problems that respondents face. As new technology and better training programs spread throughout the oil and gas industry, companies should be able to prevent and treat spills and other problems more effectively. Environmental consultants can help these companies adjust their initiatives based on conditions on the ground.