May 21, 2021
Can Marine Engineering Change How Oil Drilling Pollutes the Ocean? by iDiveBlue
Marine engineering off the coast of NorwaySource: Pexels
Oil drilling as a whole is a highly specialized and profitable business that grew into the largest industry in the world by the end of the 20th century. However, oil (and gas) drilling activities operate around the clock and have devastating consequences on wildlife, water sources, communities, human health, and other parts of public lands.
In short, marine engineering can change how oil drilling pollutes the ocean.
To learn how oil companies can improve the effects of offshore drilling, it’s crucial first to understand what marine engineers do, the oil drilling process, and the consequences of oil drilling on marine life.
Marine engineering specializes in the design, development, production, and maintenance of ships, boats, oil rigs, and any ocean vessel. The primary duties of a marine engineer include (but are not limited to):
- Planning and Recording: They plan all marine systems’ design and execution by performing precise recording of various parameters for official reporting and publication.
- Oil Fuel Bunkering: They manage and oversee oil fuel transfer between the bunker station (barge) and the ship. Plus, they create reports for planning bunkering operations.
- Emergency Repairs: They learn how to repair and resolve major system breakdowns onboard the deck or when at sea.
Oil, also known as petroleum or crude oil, is a fossil fuel and nonrenewable energy source available in various world regions. Oil drilling is a process that involves an oil well and a tube being bored through the ground of the Earth. The line connects to a well-pump, and crewmembers extract the oil through the tube.
Humans use petroleum to operate vehicles, heat homes or buildings, generate electricity, and much more. In 2008 alone, the United States produced roughly 4.9 million crude oil tanks per day. Not to mention, other countries imported about 9.8 million barrels per day.
How Oil Drilling Pollutes the Ocean
Offshore drilling has more of a profound impact on marine life. Below are only some of the significant consequences when oil drilling occurs in the ocean:
- Oil Spills: Offshore drilling and production lead to accidental oil spills or leaks, such as a broken underwater pipeline or damages to ships and tankers. As a result, oil spills destroy coral reefs and marine life because tons of toxic chemicals are mixing with the seawater. For example, numerous bird species become covered in oil and cannot hunt for fish and fly. Humans can become exposed to contaminated water because they may eat seafood caught in the affected zone.
- Disruptive Sound Waves: Part of offshore drilling involves finding and studying geographic regions where potential petroleum is. So, an offshore exploration team uses seismic airguns to shoot powerful sonic waves into the ocean. In turn, the sound waves bounce off the seafloor while traveling up to almost 2,500 miles underwater. The seismic surveys allow crewmembers to generate maps that help them find an underwater location where they can drill. Simultaneously, marine mammals, such as dolphins, are disturbed and harmed because they use sound to communicate, travel, and source food.
- Hazardous Waste Disposal: The impacts of offshore drilling also lead to waste production, which usually gets released into the sea by oil companies. Drilling in the ocean naturally produces wastes, most of which are drilling muds, cuttings, and formation water. Plus, trash, bilge water, chemical products, and cement are all released as well. These pollutants poison the sea animals even more.
How Marine Engineers are Changing the Effects of Oil Drilling in the Ocean
After catastrophic accidents like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, the federal government has vigorously implemented new laws to regulate the oil industry, prevent future similar tragedies, and lessen offshore drilling’s harmful effects.
Among the numerous improvements in the past decade, below are some significant strategies that have been implemented (and currently are advancing) to change how oil drilling pollutes the ocean:
Building Stronger Wells
One of the fatally flawed errors that caused the 2010 disaster was the lack of strong cement sealing. Since then, federal regulations have been in place to ensure all engineers certify their cementing operations to withstand any kind of extreme pressure.
Also, rather than taking the construction workers’ word for it, drilling companies require extensive lab testing of the wells’ cement, which their engineers or third-party inspectors can perform.
Furthermore, engineers are required to construct wells in pieces, instead of all at once, to detect leaks better. They must firmly cement each section of the pipe before installing another one.
Although a more costly method, the slow and cautious process has helped contractors catch possible leaks while the concrete is setting and allows them to make changes easily if they see any major construction errors.
Improving Blowout Preventers
One of the most critical safety equipment pieces on a deep-water oil rig is a mechanism called the blowout preventer (BOP). It prevents oil and gas from racing too quickly up into the pipe built inside the rig. If this were to happen, a massive explosion would occur.
In recent years, federal regulators have mandated that all BOPs be certified, proving they are highly secure. They also train marine engineers to build more powerful shear rams, which is a valuable tool that cuts into the pipe to shut off oil and gas flow.
Placing Robots on Every Oil Rig
When drilling in the deepest parts of the ocean, oil companies employ robotic-like submarines or ROV vehicles. This technology operates remotely on underwater grounds where humans cannot easily descend.
In the case of an oil spill, the ROVs can potentially close the BOP’s shear rams, hook up hoses and plumbing, install recovery devices, build relief wells to shut down the gushers, and gather data for reporting. For each oil rig to have its own ROV, marine engineers go through training on operating the ROV, such as understanding how these ‘underwater robots’ use remote sensing technology.
Improving Tracking and Controlling Technology
Marine engineers have also learned to combine various information sources, such as satellite and aerial photography, radar and infrared sensing, and thermal imaging. This enables them to know the size of oil plumes and to track their movements effectively.
Most notably, oil companies have increased their radio towers network with highly advanced communication devices for ships and planes. In turn, pilots and captains can better coordinate response efforts if future oil spills occur.
With the additional efforts of protecting our oceans, marine engineering is making beneficial advancements. The importance of these advancements is unparalleled, as in order to maintain a healthy ecosystem we must practice safer guidelines in oil drilling procedures.
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