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As oil companies explore the Gulf of Mexico for more oil, deeper depths are the new horizon in oil exploration. At over 2100m (7000 ft) – where deepwater and ultra-deepwater drilling occur – high pressure and cold temperatures create an extreme environment that influences the transport of released oil in the water column.

Task 2 focuses on understanding behaviors of oil, gas, and dispersants at high pressures (210-times sea level pressure) and low temperatures (3° C) using a high-pressure chamber where oil and oil-degrading microbes can give researchers an idea of these unknown processes. Contributing scientists operate through collaboration with Hamburg University of Technology in Germany, the University of Calgary in Canada, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Miami and the University of Western Australia.

In Depth: Studies are being conducted at high pressure to improve the understanding of gas/oil/dispersant/seawater interactions in deep sea environments. High-pressure experimental research is critical for both defining the physical and chemical behavior of the gas/oil/dispersant/seawater mixture at conditions relevant to deep-sea spills such as the DWH and determining the initial conditions for plume modeling. This high-pressure experimental work focuses on the processes of gas-oil “peeling”, hydrate formation, bubble/droplet size distribution, chemical solubility and dissolution, and deep-sea microbial degradation.

The high-pressure experimental work allows us to:

  1. track the fluid pathways of a deep-sea blowout from a multiphase petroleum jet to a rising plume, including the formation of gas hydrates, bubbles and droplets and their evolution;
  2. determine the chemical solubility and partition coefficients for xenophobic petroleum compounds, e.g., benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX), alkylphenols and other petrochemicals between gas charged oil and seawater at high pressure; and
  3. replicate high-pressure deep-sea conditions to determine the rates that natural and engineered microbial consortia can degrade hydrocarbons from a deep-water blowout.

Results from the high pressure experimental tests are refining initial conditions of the plume important to near-field modeling of chemical partitioning and distribution, and far-field modeling of oil fate and trajectories.

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