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Gulf of Mexico



Civil Engineering


TGLO PhD Pipeline Project

Principal Investigator(s) James S. Bonner, Ph.D., P.E.

SERF Contact James S. Bonner, Ph.D., P.E., Cheryl Page, Ph.D., Chris Fuller

Sponsor Texas General Land Office (TGLO) (Project Officer: Robin Jamail)



In 1993, a multi-disciplinary research team involving numerous principal investigators from the Texas A&M University System (TAMUS) began a long-term collaboration to further the understanding of oil spill remediation technology. The Texas General Land Office has funded this effort over the past ten years. During the first five years, the program evolved from a primarily lab-based research center to a multifaceted research program. The activities of the consortium were focused on bioremediation as an oil spill response at four levels consistent with the National Environmental Technology Applications Center (NETAC) approach (NETAC, 1993). The four levels involved a preliminary assessment of bioremediation feasibility, followed by laboratory-scale testing. After the nationally-known spill on the San Jacinto River in 1994, a wetland research facility (San Jacinto Wetland Research Facility, SJWRF) was developed to conduct controlled field-scale research. To date, five oil spill remediation studies have been conducted at the site, including intrinsic bioremediation following the spill, biostimulation and bioaugmentation experiments, a shoreline cleaner study and a chemically-dispersed oil investigation. Also during the period of the five-year contract, a large mesoscale research facility known as the Coastal Oil-Spill Simulation System (COSS) was planned, constructed and tested. This facility became operational in 1997 and has been utilized with several oil-spill simulation experiments focusing primarily on dispersant use. Subsequently, it has been renamed Shoreline Environmental Research Facility (SERF).


Through these facilities, preliminary research was conducted involving simulated field conditions and controlled field demonstration with parallel laboratory studies. Also in 1997, our laboratories were awarded a TGLO contract to provide environmental analytical support for spill response teams. This is a special balloon contract that supplies environmental sampling equipment to TGLO regional offices, trains response teams in the latest sampling techniques and provides analytical measurements on an "as-need" basis in the event of a spill. The contract supplies base support but can be expanded on an emergency basis during spills to expand it's purview to supply analytical support for Natural Resource Damage Assessment or to trace oil spill origin and to determine principal responsible party(ies).


At the field-scale level, we are furthering our capabilities for enhancing oil-spill response. We are currently developing methods of predicting the dispersion of crude oil using HF radar. Dispersed oil plumes, entrained in the water column, are transported through hydrodynamic processes involving advection and dispersion. In shallow embayments, typical of Texas waters, this is closely approximated with a two-dimensional representation.  HF radar can directly observe and quantify these processes and, therefore, can track the oil plume in real time. Our HF radar system has been expanded to include mobile units. They are housed in portable self-contained trailers and are ready for rapid deployment to targeted areas such as Galveston, Port Arthur, Freeport, and Lavaca bays. As training exercises and instrument testing, we have conducted several deployments of these new units. Method development for the prediction of oil dispersion using HF radar is ongoing.


In addition to the HF radar deployments, we are adding real-time in situ sensor instruments to improve oil spill detection and response. These sensors can be deployed on fixed platforms in targeted areas such as Galveston and Corpus Christi bays, and monitor important baseline parameters, such as hydrocarbon contaminant concentrations, nutrient levels, particle size distribution and characterization, etc. SERF is currently adding sensor arrays to a geo-referenced boat. These sensors would provide valuable information for oil spill response planning/activities. The information gained from the platform sensors would provide background (baseline) data; and after an oil spill has occurred, the monitoring strategy can be mobilized using the sensor-arrayed geo-referenced boat.


Concurrent to the activities in the field, at SERF, and at SJWRF, we have continued our fundamental laboratory research, furthering the understanding of oil spill remediation. These investigations have included the study of important physical processes in the nearshore environment including colloidal oil transport, ambient particle interaction, enhanced biodegradation of chemically-dispersed oil, oxidation potential of wetland sediments, and environmental fate of oil.


During all this time, SERF and Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) have maintained a system of monitoring stations for the collection of water level information and other environmental and meteorological data. This information is pertinent to hazard material spill management and environmental management of the Gulf Coast region. This system, Texas Coastal Ocean Observation Network (TCOON), is important in furthering our understanding of hydrodynamics and meteorological processes affecting the environment in this region.


The research funding and appropriations over the initial years of this program has produced research assets and expenditures totaling over thirty million dollars. Thus far, TGLO research funding has exceeded $16,000,000, which was leveraged with over $10,000,000 in additional grants and contracts from national, state and local funding entities.


These activities are working in concert to prepare for dispersant use in oil-spill response study during a "spill of opportunity" (SOO). The proposed research will be contracted as a two-year project. The overall objectives will involve:

a) placement and working of a sensor network (both remote and in-situ sensors) in Corpus Christi Bay, and eventually Galveston Bay;

b) framework development for comprehensive ecosystem modeling, especially modeling for oil transport and environmental fate;

c) visualization of relevant environmental and societal/industrial information to develop a comprehensive management tool translating oil spill research into oil spill response;

d) society/industrial outlook adjustment to view the environment impacts including oil spills, as an internal cost associated with business practice and helping industry reduce these costs;

e) education/outreach to transfer research to the public.



TGLO Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program


Last Updated on November 4, 2005

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