Previous oil containment booms have an open top that allows natural gas to escape, and have significant oil leakage due to wave action. Also, a subsea pyramid oil trap exists, but cannot move relative to moving oil plumes from deepsea oil leaks.

An Improved Floating Oil-Spill Containment Device features a flexible tarp cover with three or more corners that is pulled by three or more towboats.
The solution is to have large, moveable oil traps. One version floats on the sea surface and has a flexible tarp cover and a lower weighted skirt to completely entrap the floating oil and natural gas. The device must have at least three sides with boats pulling at each apex, and sonar or other system to track the slowly moving oil plume, so that the boats can properly locate the booms. The oil trap device must also have a means for removal of the oil and the natural gas.

A second design version has a flexible pyramid cover that is attached by lines to ballast on the ocean floor. This is similar to fixed, metal pyramid oil capture devices in the Santa Barbara Channel off the coast of California. The ballast lines for the improved design, however, would have winches that can move the pyramid to always be located above the oil and gas plume.

A third design is a combination of the first two. It uses a submerged pyramid to trap oil, but has no anchor and uses boats to locate the trap. It has ballast weights located along the bottom of the tarp and/or at the corners of the trap.

The improved floating oil-spill containment device has a large floating boom and weighted skirt surrounding the oil and gas entrapment area. The device is triangular (or more than three sides) and has a flexible tarp cover with a raised gas vent area. Boats pull on the apex of the triangles to maintain tension and to allow the device to move to optimum locations to trap oil and gas. The gas is retrieved from a higher buoyant part of the tarp, and oil is retrieved from the floating oil layer contained in the device.

These devices can be operated in relatively severe weather, since waves will break over the devices without causing oil leaking. Also, natural gas is entrapped and can be retrieved. All designs can use sonar to locate the moving oil plume, and then be relocated by using boats or winches to move the oil trapping devices. These devices can be constructed of treated, non-permeable DuPont Kevlar cloth (or similar material).

This work was done by Jack A. Jones of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-47679

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Floating Oil-Spill Containment Device

(reference NPO-47679) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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This article first appeared in the April, 2012 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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