Setting the standard: ASTM standards for hazardous substances and oil spill response

Major oil spills attract the attention of the public and the media. In recent years, this attention has created a global awareness of the risks of oil spills and the damage they do to the environment. However, oil is a necessity in our industrial society. According to trends in energy usage, this is not likely to decrease much in the future. Ports are often the location of spills because of the high intensity of traffic and the offloading/ on-loading activity that takes place there.

The production and consumption of oil and petroleum products are increasing worldwide and the threat of oil pollution is increasing accordingly. The movement of petroleum from the oil fields to the consumer involves as many as 10 to 15 transfers between many different modes of transportation including tankers, pipelines, railcars, and tank trucks. Oil is stored at transfer points and at terminals often in ports. Accidents can happen during any of these transportation steps or storage times, and frequently occurs in ports where the activity occurs. Oil spill preparedness and cleanup are important activities to protect the amenities in ports as well as to protect the environment. Oil cleanup is an activity that involves many different processes and many different pieces of equipment. Ensuring that these processes and cleanup equipment are appropriate is very important. The presence of standards on cleanup techniques and equipment has been an activity of ASTM International, the American Society for Testing and Materials – International.

ASTM committee F20 and standard examples ASTM committee F20 on Hazardous Substances and Oil Spill Response was formed in 1975. F20 develops and update guides and standards relevant to hazardous substances and oil spill response. The Committee, with a current membership of approximately 100, has jurisdiction of over 55 standards, published in the Annual Book of ASTM Standards, Volume 11.05. Committee F20 has nine technical subcommittees that maintain jurisdiction over these standards. Examples of Committees and standards are shown in the accompanying table (see Table 1).

Temporary containment

Sub-Committee F20.11, Control, focuses on temporary containment. Most standards are on oil spill containment booms and temporary storage devices. Of particular interest are the standards on connectors. Before the ASTM developed standard connectors, most boom manufacturers had unique connectors.

Thus connecting booms from different manufacturers was difficult, if not impossible. There are two standard connectors and these have greatly improved interconnectivity of booms. Also of note is the new standard on selection of booms for different water bodies. This standard addresses the selection of different types of booms for different situations. It is an attempt to standardise what booms are chosen for the different conditions so that containment will be adequate.

Oil spill recovery equipment

Sub-committee F10.12 focuses on developing standards for oil spill recovery equipment, materials and processes. One standard that has stood out over time, is the standard on collecting performance data for skimmers. This standard basically specifies the test criteria for oil spill skimmer, thus standardising the performance data by which skimmers are sold. New protocols are under development that may be of interest to spill response personnel. The first, entitled ‘Standard Test Method for Determining Nameplate Capacity of Stationary Oil Skimmers’ has been created to quantify the nameplate capacity of a stationary skimmer in ideal conditions using an actual testing method. Up until recently, the nameplate capacity associated with oil spill skimmers was derived primarily from the capacity of the pump attached to the skimmer, and that capacity was usually the maximum pumping capacity of water. This led to drastic de-ratings being used to provide estimates of ‘realistic’ capacities rendering the whole process to be less than accurate. The new protocol would be a test under ‘ideal’ conditions but would use actual oil in viscosity ranges of interest. Additionally, a testing loop would be used to simulate actual spilled oil recovery. This protocol would test the whole skimmer as a system, and provide results that would be limited by the capabilities of the skimmer, not simply the ability of the pump attached to the unit.

The total fluid recovered over a timed interval would be measured, and the gross recovery rate of oil and proportion of recovered oil to water would be determined. Additionally, the level of emulsification generated by the skimming system would be measured and deducted along with free water from the final nameplate capacity. The current draft protocol is undergoing review to ensure that the requirements and equipment needed to perform the testing are not site specific so that the oil skimmers can be evaluated by a number of testing facilities and manufacturers involved in oil spill response.

Merv Fingas, F20 Committee Officer, ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, USA
Edition: Edition 31

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