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Passive Acoustic Technique for Detecting, Locating, and Characterizing Hydrocarbon Leakages

The U.S. outer continental shelf is a major source of energy for the United States. The rapid growth of oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico increases the risk of underwater oil spills at greater water depths and drilling wells.  These hydrocarbons leakages can be caused by either natural events, such as seeping from fissures in the ocean seabed, or by anthropogenic accidents, such as leaking from broken wellheads and pipelines. In order to improve safety and reduce the environmental risks of offshore oil and gas operations, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement recommended the use of real-time monitoring. An early warning system for detecting, locating, and characterizing hydrocarbon leakages is essential for preventing the next oil spill as well as for seafloor hydrocarbon seepage detection. Existing monitoring techniques have significant limitations and cannot achieve real-time monitoring. This project launches an effort to develop a functional real-time monitoring system that uses passive acoustic technologies to detect, locate, and characterize undersea hydrocarbon leakages over large areas in a cost-effective manner.

In an oil spill event, the leaked hydrocarbon is injected into seawater with huge amounts of discharge at high speeds. With mixed natural gases and oils, this hydrocarbon leakage creates underwater sound through two major mechanisms: shearing and turbulence by a streaming jet of oil droplets and gas bubbles, and bubble oscillation and collapse.  These acoustic emissions can be recorded by hydrophones in the water column at far distances. They will be characterized and differentiated from other underwater noises through their unique frequency spectrum, evolution and transportation processes and leaking positions, and further be utilized to detect and position the leakage locations.