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Project Deepwater Horizon


KD Analytical Consulting, Inc. (KD) was contacted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in cooperation with British Petroleum (BP) to do analysis of subsurface sea water for indications of oil in the Gulf of Mexico near the Deepwater Horizon oil leak.

Deepwater Horizon Site

For this project, KD chose to use the INFICON HAPSITE Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer (GC/MS). The HAPSITE was able to screen for and identify the lighter compounds (up to 12 Carbons in size) in crude oil, and was calibrated on board the ship down to the single digit parts per billion (ppb). The actual analysis of each sample took less than 20 minutes. The HAPSITE is extremely portable at less than 40lbs (54lbs in its shipping case).  Shipping it overnight and transferring it at sea was accomplished with very little effort. KD was able to respond to this National Priority and was on board within 48 hours of receiving the official request for support.

Transfer at sea to NOAA Pisces

One Scientist and HAPSITE deployed out of Key West, Florida aboard the NOAA ship Gordon Gunter. Another Scientist and HAPSITE deployed out of Pascagoula, Mississippi aboard the NOAA ship Pisces. Due to the portable nature of the equipment, NOAA was even able to transfer the first Scientist and equipment from the Gordon Gunter to the NOAA ship Henry Bigelow via a small pontoon boat at sea.

Transfer at sea to NOAA Henry Bigelow

In all, a total of 4 KD Scientists completed 4 tours at sea and kept up with around the clock sampling efforts analyzing as many as 40 samples a day in addition to blanks, duplicates and quality assurance (QA) samples. The sampling was increased on the final tour and two KD Scientists analyzed samples 24 hours a day to handle the workload. Based on the dynamic needs of the project, KD recalibrated the HAPSITE on the fly down to 50 parts per trillion (ppt) for the last cruise to look for extremely low traces of oil.

Equipment onboard NOAA Pisces

The results generated by KD were used in conjunction with real time subsurface measurements to determine the presence or absence of oil in the sea water near the origin of the leak and potential key locations around the gulf. Samples were sent to NOAA’s on shore fixed lab for confirmation analysis. HAPSITE data, subsurface readings and on shore confirmation analyses all showed excellent correlation of results.

Water Sampling Unit

Coast Guard and News Media

On a side note, NOAA ships when deployed at sea for long periods of time can make fresh water with an evaporation unit.  Due to the concern of crude oil being present, the ships were not making water and relied on a transfer boat to bring water.  KD analytical was able to analyze the water being made aboard the ship and determine that it was free of VOC’s, saving money and time.

Even with occasionally rough seas and once even dashing towards Mexico avoid a hurricane, the HAPSITEs and normally land bound Scientists performed flawlessly. KD was able to deploy rapidly and meet the initial needs of the project with detection limits down to the low ppb range. With the crude oil being harder to detect, the HAPSITE was able to accommodate the changing conditions and scope of the project by being recalibrated to a lower detection limit of parts per trillion while at sea.

Rough Sea

Quick results, low detection limits and excellent correlation allowed NOAA and BP to successfully make critical decisions on where to sample and significantly contributed to the overall success of this program. KD would like to thank NOAA and BP for the opportunity to participate in the resolution to this crisis.

Editor’s note: KD would personally like to thank Linda Mihalec, Jon Terpening, Ken Dockery and especially Dan Schenk for all of the long hours and hard work on this project.

Dan Schenk
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