By Mr. B M Bansal, Chairman, IndianOil
Over the last decade, the hunt for oil has taken us deeper and deeper into the sea. With the crude oil price hovering in the mid USD 90s we can expect renewed efforts by E&P companies in exploration. Also, the increased oil consumption of the big emerging markets of China and India means that the hunt for cheaper oil is going deeper into the high seas. All of which will mean more risks of oil spills.
The daily news alerts on the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico has died down and with the successful capping of the leaking well, the thousands of tonnes of oil and gas which leaked out have almost stopped. But the debacle of the rig ‘Deepsea Horizon’ continues to haunt oil industry. When crude oil spills into water, the light mix of poisonous benzene and toluene evaporate, leaving behind the heavier and sticky tars. Up to two-thirds of an oil-spill can evaporate in the first few days, but not before killing fish and marine life. The thick oil also washes ashore creating reservoirs of toxic chemicals on the beaches. The rest of the floating oil breaks up into globules, which is whipped by the wind into a brown, foamy "chocolate mousse".
The immediate impact of an oil slick is the death of fish and turtles choked by the film, and of birds because they cannot fly with heavy oil coated wings. Since oil forms a film on the surface, it reduces the amount of light and oxygen passing into the water, starving marine life underneath. On August 7th 2010, MSC Chitra, carrying 1200 cargo containers, 2600 tons of fuel and 88 tons of lubricants, collided with bulk carrier Khalija off the Mumbai coast. Amidst images of cargo containers sliding into the sea and an ever-growing oil slick that was poised to threaten the Mumbai coast, there were urgent calls for help to all quarters. One SOS that the Maharashtra State Government promptly sent was to scientists from IndianOil and TERI. A joint team was quickly formed in response to the emergency and solution was - bioremediation of spilled oil by employing the unique Oilivorous Technology. Biotechnology has resulted in the creation of oil-eating bacteria that can digest two-thirds of oil hydrocarbons at amazing speeds. With the hydrocarbon thus removed, oil slicks become lighter and sink to the ocean bed. Bacteria and microorganisms that degrade oil break them into carbon dioxide and water. Some will evaporate (moving the pollution from water to air), and the rest will disperse, getting diluted in the sea. Jointly, the two organizations have developed 1500 kg of microbial mixture specially cultivated in large scale bioreactors. And to tackle the oil spill in Mumbai in August 2010, the specially cultured microbes were immediately dispatched in special containers. The first phase of the cleanup operation began on August 20, 2010 at Awas Beach near Alibaugh, Mumbai. The oily tar balls and oil contaminated sand were mixed with the specially prepared microbial blend which has a proprietary nutrient recipe that can sustain high salinity and hasten the break-down of hydrocarbon contaminants.
This was perhaps the first time that the bioremediation technology was being used on marine soils. Till recently, the technology has been under use on land areas for cleaning up oily sludge generated in refineries and in tank farms. About 100 volunteers from different agencies including education institutions helped in carrying out the operation. Besides, the recent Mumbai oil spill, IndianOil's technology has also been employed at Paradeep port when an oil spill occurred due to the sinking of Blackrose an oil vessel in September 2009. Oilivorous Technology from IndianOil and TERI has demonstrated its ability to remove oil from the sea and beach leaving them pristine. For India's largest commercial enterprise, the satisfaction is in making a difference to society in a myriad ways with innovations that make a difference.