In this series of articles, we look to highlight the activity of OSRL’s Subject Matter Experts (SME) programme and the core groups established to advance each discipline’s objectives.
In this instalment, we’re chatting with James Pringle, the co-chair of the surveillance, modelling and visualisation core group, who explains the team’s goals and activity, and how they are helping OSRL maintain its position as the world’s foremost oil spill expert.
What can you tell us about the role of surveillance and your core group?
Surveillance is a sub-group of the surveillance, modelling and visualisation core group, and we’re responsible for driving the internal and external understanding of the topic, promoting the developments that are taking place and validating how new hardware or sensors perform, as well as their specific application within response.
We focus on everything surveillance related, from technologies based in space to the bottom of the sea bed. That includes optical and radar satellites, surveillance aircraft, aerostats, kites and UAVs, all the way down to underwater vehicles and the wide variety of different sensors which each technology offers.
Within the sub-group, we have 10 members from across OSRL’s three operating regions, each with a different skill set and level of experience in the subject. We also have two industry sponsors; Dr Peter Collinson from BP, and Dr Christian Haselwimmer from Chevron. They provide a highly-valuable link into industry, bringing their external view to the table and supporting members of the group with feedback on the challenges they are facing. Effectively, they help ensure we are all aligned with what is happening in the industry and the direction it’s going.
As a discipline, surveillance is an extremely important part of OSRL’s operations, and cuts across both the preparedness and the response side of our activity. With regards to preparedness, we could be using satellite imagery or surveillance from a UAV– or combining several different surveillance technologies – to conduct pre-impact surveys, shoreline surveys, or for baseline analysis. This type of activity informs the individual preparedness and tactical response plans we develop for specific members and is essential to ensuring we have a comprehensive understanding of the environment around a well or field, especially as our response efforts will be heavily steered by this information, should an incident occur.
Then you have the response side, which is broken down into strategic and tactical applications. Strategic activity includes verifying if there’s been a spill, for example. If someone reports an oil spill, we would look to verify if it is oil, and if so, what’s the volume of the release, what’s the characterisation of the oil, where is it moving to, and what’s its likely source. A lot of that information can be very hard to gather from the ground, so a plane, Helicopter or Satellite would be used to provide more accurate situational awareness.
On the tactical side, we’re essentially supporting operations. That could be offshore containment and recovery, or dispersant operations, or any other activity which would benefit from a better vantage point. Again, when you are on land or the water, it is hard to see what’s happening around you. You need an aircraft, Aerostat, or Kite to help ensure you are operating efficiently and effectively– tackling the right area with the right tool. Having that birds’ eye view really helps and enables you to direct assets to where they are needed most.
Overall, our core group is looking at the long-term direction, both for response and preparedness surveillance activities within OSRL. With the information we gain, we are trying to engage with a widest variety of stakeholders, be that through our industry sponsors, speaking at conferences, or performing exercises. It’s an exciting field and one that’s constantly developing, so there’s always something interesting to discuss.
What are the group’s current objectives?
Our objectives haven’t changed significantly since we began the programme. We are committed to increasing the experience and knowledge of the surveillance sub group, and sharing that expanded understanding with the larger internal audience at OSRL. It’s about continuous improvement and ensuring our teams remain at the forefront of surveillance capabilities within the response industry.
We are also concerned with raising awareness of the technology that we currently use; what’s on the market right now, and how it can be applied to our requirements, as well as the new opportunities we should be exploring and the results of our testing and validation process.
Of equal importance to the sub-group is advancing external engagement and communicating our activity to the wider industry, including members and other spill response organisations. This works both ways, with us looking at what others are doing and sharing the developments we are making.
Finally, there’s the operational side, which is most concerned with internal tools and processes. A lot of time and effort has already gone into making comprehensive updates to our training materials for aerial surveillance. The outcome of that process was an entirely new internal training system, which is used throughout OSRL. Going forward, there will definitely be more of this type of activity.
When it comes to surveillance, what technologies are you currently looking at?
There’s a few different opportunities currently but nothing is brand new, it’s more about reviewing recent developments. The capabilities of autonomous underwater vehicles, or AUVs, for example, are constantly evolving and we’re definitely looking at how they could play a larger role in our surveillance activities. To this end, we have been performing trials and physical exercises to explore what sensors they can support, how they can be applied in a spill, how they perform, and how they could be improved.
Unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, are similar to AUVs in some ways. It is a more mature area of tech, because of their military applications, but until recently, the capabilities we require weren’t available or commercially viable. Currently we’re looking at how they can be used in different situations; where do they add the most value, what are their limitations, what sensors can they take. This activity creates a value matrix which informs both preparedness and response efforts.
Satellites technology is also an area that continues to make big steps forward. Some of the major players are working on new constellations that will, when launched, deliver a step change in key areas, such as resolution, processing times and reactivity. Satellite operators are also looking at the role big data and machine learning can play and that has potentially significant implications. At the other end of the spectrum, we are keeping a close eye on the developments taking place in miniature and micro satellites. There’s a big drive into smaller, cheaper satellite constellations and we are keen to follow that thread and see where it goes.
With all these technologies, we work closely with relevant third parties, such as OEMs and educational institutes, to understand the R&D they are doing and to support their efforts to better meet our requirements. We involve them in exercises and knowledge transfer, and we share our challenges so they can take those issues away and try to identify effective solutions.
What’s next for the surveillance sub-group?
It’s really a continuation of our current activity; focusing on the continual development of the group member’s knowledge or experience, then giving them the opportunity to attend, events, seminars or providing time and resources to conduct their own research. They then get to share what they have learnt back to the group.
Equally, we will continue to drive external communication and engagement in the topic, creating content, attending industry events and conducting our own exercises – both in the classroom and on the water.
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In next weeks feature, we will be speaking with Rob Holland, the co-chair of the Shoreline core group, who explains the team’s goals and activity, and how they are helping OSRL maintain its position as the world’s foremost oil spill expert.