BP oil spill: Technology centre stage in containment

BP has said technology is playing a crucial part in efforts to contain a huge oil spill that took place last month in the Gulf of Mexico.


Other technology including teleconferencing and workforce management are also in heavy use to help co-ordinate the many staff and volunteers attempting to stop the damage.

BP has advanced fast process modelling in place for normal day-to-day operations, and some of this may be in use as it develops ways to quickly tackle the current problems. The company could not immediately confirm details of project and people management systems in use to contain the spill, but it typically runs Oracle Primavera P6 project management software to coordinate complex operations.

BP also runs an in-house Operating Management System, which is implemented at all major sites and aims to help design and manage processes tightly and quickly. This, too, is likely to be in special use for the operations.

“We have our oil spill experts in place and they are constantly co-ordinating with the US coastguard and authorities,” a BP spokesperson added.

The US Coastguard itself is using advanced satellite and aerial imagery to detect how far the oil slick has spread, BP said, and this information is being transmitted in data feeds to the oil giant in order to inform the containment staff and to contribute to strategic planning. The US Environmental Protection Agency also runs a number of risk and waste monitoring systems that are being consulted as part of the clean up, and it is conducting air monitoring flights.

Meanwhile, environmental monitoring group the Louisiana Bucket Brigade is tracking the effects of the spill, using the Usahidi free online mapping tool, the BBC reported.

In some of the worst instances of oil spreading rapidly, BP received US government authorisation to burn off some of the oil. That measure remains controversial but is argued by some as being less harmful than allowing large amounts of oil to spread.

Its latest move, this week, is to ship a giant 100-tonne funnel to the site, and then lower the funnel using the robotic submarines. From the funnel, oil will be collected at the surface by a barge and eventually by a temporary rig. But BP chief executive Tony Hayward told the BBC that with a water depth of 5,000 feet, lowering the funnel would be a difficult operation that had never been attempted before.

BP is now racing to deal with the remaining leaks, as pressure mounts to stop the environmental damage. The company, which is also battling to remove huge costs from daily operations, now faces additional expense potentially totalling hundreds of millions of dollars as it takes the necessary steps to combat the leaks.

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