Ever-growing regulatory and social pressures concerning our activities’ environmental footprint require us to show that they do not have a harmful impact. One way of doing that is monitoring the quality of nearby natural environments, especially aquatic ones. But there are problems with the standard methods used by the oil industry. They are expensive and don’t allow continuous monitoring, consisting as they do of periodic measurements and sampling. Regular maintenance is also needed to scrub the physical and chemical sensors that may be used. That’s why we turned to a disruptive technology, called high-frequency, non-invasive valvometric biomonitoring, which has been tested for more than a year under real-world industrial conditions.
An in situ Biomonitoring system
All living organisms can detect disruptions to their habitat, a property marine species share. With that in mind, we struck up a partnership with France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the University of Bordeaux to identify which marine organisms could best provide an overall indicator of water quality, continuously and in situ.
The result is an impressively efficient technology, called high-frequency, non-invasive (HFNI) valvometry, which uses bivalve mollusks. With their unmatched sensitivity, they can monitor water quality near our facilities continuously — and without human intervention — to detect the presence of hydrocarbons at an early stage.
Here’s how it works: the mollusks grouped into valvometers are fitted with micro electromagnets on both sides of their shells. The electrodes generate a 10-Hz electromagnetic current strong enough to continuously monitor the gaping activity — valve closing and opening — of the mollusks, without stressing the animal. By analyzing the valves’ gaping cycles, we can identify in real time any change in behavior indicating a disturbance in the marine environment.
A pilot under real-world conditions in the Arabian gulf
Since the project has been under research since 2012, several experiments have already been conducted in the laboratory, semi-open environments and natural sites such as the Barents Sea. But a new milestone was reached in 2017 with the demonstration pilot launched at a Total ABK offshore platform in the Arabian Gulf. This world first in biomonitoring installed two valvometers consisting of local pearl oysters (Pinctada radiata) near physical and chemical sensors.
Placed at two different water depths, the valvometers can record more than 2.5 million data daily, which are sent continuously to a remote receiving station for processing and storage. Although the pilot isn’t set to end until summer, it has already corroborated the technology’s effectiveness under real-world industrial and operational conditions. It has achieved very conclusive results in terms of characterizing the mollusks’ behavior, by tracking their circadian and circatidal rhythms. The commercial-scale pilot also confirmed its potential to detect anthropogenic events, such as the presence of oil sheens.
Group of clams Corbicula fluminea equipped with HFNI Valvometry electrodes for exposure experiments at Lacq pilot streams (France, freshwater)
Blue mussels Mytilus edulis equipped with HFNI Valvometry electrodes, used for 2 years in coastal site (Dalnie Zelentsy, North-East Murmansk) at 16-meter water depth (Barents Sea, Russian Arctic)
Preparation of pearl oysters Pinctada radiata for HFNI Valvometer on a deck of Total Abu Al Bukhoosh offshore platform, before immersion by -26m water depth (Arabian Gulf, Abu Dhabi)
Immersion of bag with instrumented pearl oysters and electronics for the HFNI Valvometer implemented at -26m water depth under TotalEnergies Abu Al Bukhoosh offshore platform (Arabian Gulf, Abu Dhabi)
Arctic scallop Chlamys islandica equipped with HFNI Valvometry electrodes, used for 2 years in coastal site (Dalnie Zelentsty, North-East Murmansk) at -16m water depth (Barents Sea, Russian Arctic)
An innovative technology to win acceptability
Valvometric technology has a number of strengths for monitoring the natural environment and detecting industry-related disruptions early:
- A sensitivity to pollutants 10 to 100 times higher than typical physical and chemical sensors;
- Continuous data acquisition, in contrast to the usual periodic sampling methods;
- Analysis at least 15 to 300 times cheaper than current approaches, suitable for all types of industrial sites;
- Very low energy consumption, since power requirements are less than a watt and power can also be generated using a solar panel;
- No need for maintenance for at least two years;
- Limited human intervention: the valvometers can be installed without having to hire divers; they are remotely controlled by a real-time user interface via the Internet;
- Can be used either in saltwater or freshwater, regardless of temperature.
A genuine technological breakthrough in environmental monitoring, valvometry is also a tremendous tool to promote community engagement and win acceptability from our stakeholders. Using local species makes it easier for us to be transparent and share our environmental performance. And public buy-in doesn’t stop there, since our stakeholders also have access to the results interface.
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