However, it could play an increasing role for the detection of leaks and for long-term monitoring of the environmental effect of offshore activities as part of a monitoring system created by Norway’s Biota Guard.
The mussels, currently common blue mussels (Mytilus edulis), are one example of species that are to be used as biosensors, alongside a range of chemical and physical sensors, in subsea monitoring stations. Data from these stations would be transmitted 24/7 to shore via radio, acoustic telemetry, or cable.
However, what marks the system, says chief executive Eirik Sønneland, is that data from all of the sensors can be combined with third-party data, such as produced water analysis or other relevant production data.
This will mean Biota Guard systems can integrate real-time monitoring (supplying instant leak warning) using biological, chemical and physical sensors with third-party data. Using this data, Biota Guard’s onshore expert center can continuously built detailed models and analysis. This data can be easily accessed by operators live on any computer from an iPad to an operations room. Through reports on any longer term effects (for internal and regulatory purposes), companies’ can create an environmental performance index on their facilities. Biota Guard’s business will therefore be not as an equipment supplier, but as a monitoring and analysis business, said Sønneland.
“What is important is that it is part of a system, which is handling big data,” said Sønneland. “There is a big step in the industry, including Biota Guard, in the way we handle big data and the way we extract information from raw data. Oil companies have given us a lot of credit for this. We have been using tools from human medicine to translate the data, including third party data, which is new, and using algorhithms, and making intuitive user interface.”
Biota Guard was set up in 2005 as a spin-out from the International Research Institute of Stavanger (IRIS), based on an idea that combined biosensors with chemical and physical sensors to monitor produced water discharge and chemicals. The goal was to document and establish whether oil & gas activities are affecting the environment or not.
Other sensors could include a hydrophone, PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) sensor, methane sensor, oxygen optode, and capability to measure conductivity, pressure, temperature, and turbidity.
“By introducing a biological component, you are creating a stronger indication of whether you are having an impact,” said Sønneland.
Initial testing was carried out in a fjord outside Stavanger, followed by six weeks of prototype testing on its first field deployment at Ekofisk in 2008. This test targeted processed water discharge and was supported by Statoil and ENI. In 2009, a six-month trial at 50m depth was carried out close to Statoil’s Mongstad refinery, supported by Statoil, Shell Norway, ENI, ConocoPhillips, GDF, and Total.
The firm has more recently completed pre-commercial field adaption studies with Shell Norway for two sensor arrays at the Ormen Lange site at Nyhamna to monitor the seawater inlet and processed water outlet, and with GDF Suez E&P for environmental monitoring at the Gjøa platform.
For the project with Shell, Biota Guard included a proposal to deploy an adaptive sensor array in a test pit to assess the system’s performance over a 12-month period to qualify it for full-scale, offshore leak detection and environmental-effect monitoring.
For a full-scale deployment, a single sensor station in an array would have about 16 biosensors alongside other chemical and physical sensors.
The mussel species being used by Biota Guard has been based on qualification— and the fact the common blue mussel is the most studied variety. It has a lifespan of up to 25 years and has been qualified to a depth of 500m, said Sønneland, with R&D looking at going deeper.
But future projects could use different species, which could be used deeper and in colder waters, such as the Barents Sea, depending on the environment they would live in. Some, such as a species that live in the Arctic, live up to 450 years. Other sea creatures, such as sponges, are also being considered for deeper waters.
Sønneland said Biota Guard was also working to establish a project offshore Brazil.
However, the next big step for Biota Guard will be winning a commercial contract. “We have a system ready to operate, the next step is running a real large project,” said Sønneland.
He is hopeful that the industry will accept the system. In Norway, companies have been seeking to integrated environmental monitoring and have included biological sensors in their assessment of what these systems could include, said Sønneland.
“They have looked in to and accepted what more they can get using biological sensors,” he said. He also said following the Macondo disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, US regulatory authorities are evaluating if such monitoring should include geological, micro-seismic—and biological sensors.
“They have realized the potential and acknowledge the potential.”