BP has sent out two new unmanned robotic vehicles into the water around the huge Gulf of Mexico oil spill, in order to monitor pollutants. Over 200 million gallons of oil are estimated to have leaked into the sea before the well was capped in July.
The news comes ahead of the release of BP’s internal report, expected to be published in the coming weeks, in which BP is widely reported to admit engineers misread pressure data, among other errors. BP has not commented.
Early versions of the report highlighted serious failures of key IT-based automated and manual safety systems as playing a part in the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A rig technician has subsequently claimed in federal testimony that safety systems were crashing and were switched off.
The Wave Glider robots, now in use to monitor the water, operate autonomously with redirecting possible by satellite, and were built by Silicon Valley-based supplier Liquid Robotics. They receive propulsion power from the waves and use solar power for their complex electronics, and were originally used for recording humpback whales.
They were first used in the Gulf of Mexico at the start of the weekend, and will remain in the area of the huge oil spill for several months. The vehicles are capable of spending up to a year at sea, and a further two robotic vehicles will be sent out in September.
BP will use the robots to collect data on water quality, including oil that is emulsified, dissolved or dispersed, as well as plankton and oxygen matter. Other variables being monitored include marine mammal noises, the weather and water temperature.
Data collected by the vehicles will be relayed via satellite to BP’s control centre in Houston and will be posted on a public website, though spokespeople at BP could not immediately confirm the data would go live.
Mike Utsler, chief operating officer at BP’s oil spill response team, said: “These vehicles will provide us a steady stream of data about water quality and should significantly increase the available data for ongoing research activity.”
“We will initially deploy the Wave Gliders between the Macondo well and the shoreline, and look to expand from there in the future.”