New Brunswick

Effects of oil spill cleanups to be studied at Huntsman Marine Science Centre

Most of the testing will be lab-based, but some of their research partners have wave tanks that will allow them to recreate small-scale oil spills and test samples from those.

The $2.4 million for the project comes from the federal government's Oceans Protection Plan

The money will be used to fund research and positions at the St. Andrews science centre. (The Associated Press)

Researchers at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in St. Andrews, N.B., have received funding to study how chemicals used in oil spill cleanups affect marine species.

Lots of science has come out of oil spill cleanups in the Gulf of Mexico, research scientist Benjamin de Jourdan said, but there isn't much research on how those techniques will work in cold water climates off Canadian coastlines.

"We know we have different species up here, different conditions, different petroleum products," he said.

Containment booms like this one can prevent oil spills from spreading and reaching the coastline. (North Atlantic Refining)

The $2.4 million in funding will allow the science centre to figure out how oil spill chemicals affect species on all three Canadian sea coasts, from arctic algae to blue mussels, lobster, Atlantic and Pacific herring and cod.

The money comes from the federal government's Oceans Protection Plan and was announced on May 1. It will be used to fund 25 research positions at the science centre.

De Jourdan said the goal is to look at what techniques and technologies can best be used in Canadian waters to minimize the impact of a spill on marine life.

Currently the only approved oil spill cleanup technology in Canada is the use of booms — temporary floating barriers to contain a spill.

"[It's] a messy and long process," de Jourdan said.

Other countries use chemical and biological dispersants, controlled burning and decanting to clean up oil spills.

"Dispersants change the surface tension of an oil slick and drive it into small droplets which make it available for microbes to eat it up and more rapidly remove it from the environment."

De Jourdan said most of the testing will be lab-based and thus small scale, but that some of their research partners have large facilities with wave tanks that will allow them to recreate small scale oil spills and test samples from those.

Depending on how the project goes, there is also the potential for field trials, he said.

"This is going to really give responders the best available info going into a spill, as to what technique would work best under these particular conditions for that particular product."

With files from Shift