Images courtesy of MBARI

Molecular-based technical adaptation using oil-degrading bacteria for autonomous leakage detection (MOAB)

Project Leader: Thierry Baussant
Project overview

Oil and gas activities are currently progressing towards oceanic regions posing larger technical, logistical and environmental challenges like deep water and cold ice-covered waters. These harsh environments drastically limit the use of traditional monitoring techniques which are too time consuming and expensive to carry out in these regions. New and innovative means of collecting critical information are required to reduce the environmental risk from accidental discharges to sea. This is particularly demanded for subsurface detection of oil leakage following possible system failure or defects not identified by routine inspection of offshore pipelines or the safety controls already in place.

In the Norwegian Research Council project MOAB, microbial assays are integrated into an advanced real-time multi sensor robotic environmental platform, the Environmental Sampling Processor (ESP). This system is developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). The biological assays are based on new innovations in gene analysis. In MOAB, genetic markers of specific oil degrading bacteria, which act as real time indicators for oil spills and leakages, are used. The principle is based on the fact that oil changes the composition of microbial communities of bacteria in the water, and a short time after an oil release the bacterial community becomes dominated by oil degrading bacteria, which these markers are able to detect.

The MOAB project is currently in its final stages, and two ESP units are at the Mekjarvik facilities for testing, using both natural water samples from the fjord, and laboratory experiments with an oil exposure simulating leakages. The follow up project GENOMAPE  starting this year will continue the work on microbial genetic markers and the collaboration with MBARI, with the focus on functional bacterial genes and the current development of the next ESP generation to an AUV based platform.

Updated news on the development of the ESP related to this project is available at LinkedIn: