The Exxon Mobil Oil Spill Disaster Engineering Essay

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The Exxon Valdez oil spill was the largest in US maritime history. In this paper, we analyze aims and objectives of Exxon Mobil Corporation which is considered to be the largest oil manufacturing corporation in the world. We review the company's oil and refinery processes and operations globally in this research. A brief introduction to its annual operations is stated. The risks leading to oil spill disaster and pollution are considered for further improvements in the current restoration methods. We elaborate the consequences resulting from any oil spill disaster and its considerable effects on human, wildlife and environment. This research paper focuses on the improvements to be done in management systems so as to enhance the technologies and provides prevention measures which can help in reducing the risk of oil spills due to various factors. These factors are also discussed in this research. (Johnson, 2004)

2. Introduction

The Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) is likely to be remembered as one of the great environmental tragedies of North America in the late twentieth century. The estimated sea area affected was about 1,100 miles in 1989 which left a remarkable impact. The spill imposed itself upon the public consciousness due to the death of many baby seals, birds and stains of oil across unspoiled beaches covered by snowcapped mountains. Collective outrage provoked costly cleanup new federal legislation, and the most expensive settlement for oil spill damages ever, though the case is still in litigation. This paper represents an analysis of the risks leading to oil spills, consequences of the oil spills and some of the ecological research performed after EVOS. (Johnson, 2004)

3. Aims and Objectives of Exxon Mobil Corporation

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ExxonMobil has business operations in more than 200 countries and is considered to be the

Major oil corporation globally. The company operates in oil, coal and chemical sectors.

The aim of the corporation is to monitor and maintain the highest and utmost principles of integrity in the behavior of the Corporations' business strategy. This is achieved by the company's employees, directors and officers. The corporation considers customer satisfaction to be of utmost important for its success and great achievements. The requirements, necessities and concerns are worked out and valued by their business by looking effectively to their needs. (Exxon Mobil, 2010)

Exxon Mobil corporations' objectives include:

To offer best and high-quality products which either achieves or exceeds the tool specifications and customer requirements under practical situations;

To deliver services which consistently meet accountable and responsible principles of courtesy, performance and competency;

To deliver exact and adequate information about its services and products containing information of warranties and guarantees to enable the consumers to carry informed strategy and decisions of purchases;

Necessitate truth in advertising and other infrastructures. (R. T. Paine, 1996)

ExxonMobil's overall environmental objectives include:

zero acute pollution

maintain status of zero harmful discharges to sea

reduce emissions to air

minimize the amount of waste

minimize the risk of undesirable environmental incidents

More efficient use of energy.

Exxon Mobil Corporation works to aspire the foremost and principal edge of competition in every business feature. Economical, operational, technical and human are the resources which are required by the corporation for effective standard evaluation. Though it works to preserve flexibility to adjust to varying situations, the behavior of the business needs a dedicated and long lasting approach. The company constantly struggles to improve the effectiveness and output through knowledge, applying finest practices and also through division. They try to maintain disciplinary principles and discriminative in evaluating the variety of resource investment options available to them. They look for the advancement of proprietary technologies that ensures a competitive edge. (R. T. Paine, 1996)

They aim to accomplish all the goals by performing their business strategies perfectly and sticking to their guiding principles and policies.

4. Oil and refinery industrial processes and operations

Crude oil, which is also called petroleum, is of little value as it comes out of the ground or from deep below the seabed. To be useful, it has to be turned into gasoline (petrol), diesel oil, heating and industrial oils, lubricants and even plastics, all of which are based on oil.

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Oil refining is the process which turns crude oil into useful products. Oil refineries are extremely large industrial units requiring very large capital investments. They include control rooms, process units, compressors, miles of pipelines and vast storage tanks for crude oil and products. Every unit has a specific task, but all the processes are integrated, with information technology playing a key part in the smooth operation of the refinery.

4.1 The Chemical Composition of Crude Oil

Crude oil is a mixture of hundreds of substances called hydrocarbons. These are chemicals containing hydrogen and carbon atoms which can form literally millions of different chemical compounds, far more than any other combination of elements.

Hydrocarbon molecules come in various lengths and structures - from straight chains to branching chains, rings and spheres. The simplest hydrocarbon is methane, whose chemical formula is CH4. Natural gas, which we use for cooking and heating, is mainly composed of methane.

Not all crude oils are the same. Some are thick and tarry - for example some of the crude oils from South America, while other crude oils are much lighter with a lower density - from North Africa, for example. Crude oils also contain other substances such as sulphur which need to be removed before they can be turned into useful and safe products.

4.2 Fractional Distillation of Oil and the Principal Oil Fractions

Oil refineries produce a huge range of products to meet the demands of customers and use a number of special processes to produce the right end- product mix. The actual processes used will depend on the composition of the crude oil and the needs of the market.

Crude oil reaches the refinery by pipeline or by tanker. Because the components of the crude oil have different boiling temperatures, as a first step they can be separated in the refinery into their main components by a process called fractional distillation. Distillation is carried out as a continuous process in fractionating towers that are fitted with trays and bubble caps. The crude oil is heated to a temperature of about 350°C and pumped into the base of the tower. The vaporized oil rises up the tower and, as its components cool, so they condense back into liquid form. Those with the lowest boiling points collect closest to the top of the tower; those with highest boiling points are collected at the base of the tower. Boiling points vary from about 60°C for gasoline to over 300°C for heavy fuel oil. (Skjærseth, 2003)

4.3 The principal oil fractions

The main fractions from distillation are:

Gas - especially butane and propane

Naphtha - used to manufacture chemicals and plastics

Gasoline (petrol)

Kerosene (paraffin)

Gas oil used in diesel engines

Lubricating oils

Heavy gas oils

Residue - used for making bitumen and some fuel oils.

4.4 Products from the Refinery

4.4.1 Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG)

During oil refining, various types of gases are produced. Many of these are used as fuel to provide the huge amounts of heat and energy needed in the refinery.

But two of the gases - propane and butane - are valuable as marketable products. Known as Liquefied Petroleum Gas (or LPG), they can be stored in metal containers under pressure as liquids. LPG is used for heating and cooking, especially where piped gas is not available, in camping and portable stoves, on boats, or as a fuel for industrial processes.

4.4.2 Gasoline (petrol)

In the USA, where diesel engines are less popular for cars and trucks, the proportion is even higher at more than 40%. Many of the processes in the refinery are designed to increase the production of gasoline from crude oil to meet this demand. In a car, the engine compresses a mixture of gasoline and air before it is ignited by the spark plug. The octane rating of gasoline indicates how much of the fuel can be compressed before it spontaneously ignites rather than by being ignited by the spark plug. When gasoline ignites by compression rather than by the spark plug, it causes knocking in the engine, which can do serious damage.

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To prevent knocking in engines, a lead compound used to be added to gasoline. Because lead from exhausts is considered harmful to health and the environment, today, other anti-knock compounds (also hydrocarbons) are added to gasoline in the refinery.

4.4.3 Naphtha

This is used as a feedstock for producing a huge range of petrochemicals and plastics at other chemical plants, including non-corrosive de-icers for roads and runways. Naphtha is also sometimes used as a blending component for gasoline and aviation fuel.

4.4.4 Kerosene (paraffin)

Kerosene was the first major product to be refined from crude oil in the late nineteenth century when it was mainly used for lighting in oil lamps. Today, kerosene is mainly used for central heating and in domestic heating stoves.

4.4.5 Aviation fuel

Piston-engined aircraft are powered by a high-octane gasoline. Jet aircraft use a high quality kerosene for their turbines. The demands of the modern jet mean that aviation-grade kerosene must flow easily at low temperatures but remain stable when heated to high temperatures. The fuel must burn cleanly and meet exact levels of energy output. (James A. Fall)

4.4.6 Diesel fuel

There are two types of diesel fuel. For cars and buses, there is a higher-quality diesel fuel, suitable for higher-speed engines. For stationary engines or those used in ships which run at lower speeds, the fuel does not have to meet the same quality standards. Marine diesel fuel, known as bunkers, is often a blend of heavier oil fractions.

4.4.7 Lubricating oils

Without lubricants, the world would literally grind to a halt. Today, there are lubricants for thousands of applications - from fixing a squeaky door to heavy-duty lubricants for industry. Lubricating oils vary in viscosity or runniness depending on the needs of the application.

4.4.8 Heavy fuel oils

These are blends of the residue left after the lighter fractions have been removed by distillation or cracking. Fuel oils are used in large industrial boilers, in power stations and to raise steam to drive turbines on ships.

4.4.9 Waxes

Waxes are removed from the lubricating and fuel oil fractions and used to make candles, electrical insulation and waterproof coverings in food cartons.

4.4.10 Bitumen

This is the heaviest product from the refinery; it is the residue left behind after distillation when other fractions have been removed. A dark, sticky liquid, bitumen is normally solid at room temperature but will flow when heated to quite low temperatures. Its properties make it very suitable as a binder for chippings in road construction and as a waterproofing material for roofs.

(Johnson, 2004)

5. Risks leading to oil spill disaster and pollution

Oil spills are serious environmental disasters often leading to significant, long-term impacts on the environment, ecology and socio-economic activity of area. Main sources for oil pollution and spillage are resulting from exploitation, extraction, transportation and / or disposal activities. The majority of large-scale oil spills are caused by enormous oil tankers traversing oceans. Due to formidable oceanic conditions - as well as human error - such as high seas, torrential rain, strong winds, icebergs, rocks and other unkind forces, shipping accidents are inevitable and often result in the discharge of oil. (Exxon Mobil, 2010)

Inadequate planning such as a lack of immediately accessible response resources and lack of a proper and thorough risk reduction and contingency plan can lead to oil spills. Lack of safety and potential consequences of oil tankers in the oceans often account to oil spills leading to pollution

Oil spills can also be a result of human error. Such situations can occur due to mishandling the ship operations. Oil vessels in sunken ships leads to high threat for global marine pollution. Heavy fuel oil is often seen as the most environmentally significant oil spill threat because of its persistence even after weathering at sea and very slow biodegradation rates. (Exxon Mobil, 2006)

6. Consequences of oil spill disaster

The impact of oil spill on environment and people especially on children is tremendous.

The exposure to oil spill can lead to consequences in children such as-

Potential exacerbation of asthma, especially for children already at risk

Inhalation-related narcosis, tachypnea, pneumonitis, headaches, etc.

Dermatologic conditions

Lethal aspiration

Crude oil products (e.g. benzene and hexane) associated with possible long-term CNS consequences or malignancies. (Exxon Mobil, 2010)

The human and natural losses are great. Fisheries, subsistence livelihoods, tourism, and wildlife are affected greatly because of such a disaster. Wildlife species such as fishes, sea otters, birds, harbor seals are badly affected due to contact with the oil. The oil spills can lead to severe and chronic health such as physical and psychological effects on humans. The psychological symptoms include-

Increase in occurrence of psychological disorders such as depression, nervousness and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Increase in levels of trauma

Increase in intake of alcohol and violence

Increase in psychological agony

Litigation trauma disorder

Added information must be made available by the federal government to entirely identify and accurately react to exposures due to chemicals resulting from crude oil. This should contain information related to chemical concentrations of crude oil and dispersant chemicals and their breakdown and interactions byproducts in air, water, soil/sand, food, seafood and other media. (Bateman, 2009)

7. Improvements and changes in the management systems

Reducing the risk of oil spill disasters is essential for protecting the environment and reducing economic losses. Oil spill surveillance constitutes an important component of oil spill disaster management. Advances in remote sensing technologies can help to identify parties potentially responsible for pollution and to identify minor spills before they cause widespread damage. Due to the large number of sensors currently available for oil spill surveillance, there is a need for a comprehensive overview and comparison of existing sensors.

A better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of oil spill surveillance sensors will improve the operational use of these sensors for oil spill response and contingency planning. Laser fluorosensors were found to be the best available sensor for oil spill detection since they not only detect and classify oil on all surfaces but also operate in either the day or night.

7.1 Remote Sensing for Oil Spill Surveillance

There are many sensors available to detect oil spills on various kinds of surfaces. Multi-temporal imaging captured by remote sensing sensors can provide important information required to model the spread of an oil spill (Natural Resources Canada, 2007). Oil spill models may be useful for cleanup operations and controlling the oil spill. (Tomich, 2005) Remote sensing devices for oil spill detection include infrared video and photography, thermal infrared imaging, airborne laser fluorosensors, airborne and spaceborne optical sensors, and airborne and space-borne SAR (Natural Resources Canada, 2007). Satellite remote sensing suffers from low spatial and temporal resolution although it provides a synoptic view and a more cost effective system than an airborne platform, which is typically used for oil spill surveillance. (Markey) Sensors can provide the following information for oil spill contingency planning:

The location and spread of oil spill over a large area

The thickness distribution of an oil spill to estimate the quantity of spilled oil

A classification of the oil type in order to estimate environmental damage and to take appropriate response activities

Timely and valuable information to assist in clean-up operations

Remote sensing bands and related instruments for oil spill detection. However, infrared, visible and UV sensors will not be able to detect oil in inclement weather such as heavy rain or fog. Visible sensors are generally used to create a base map for the oil spill.

8. Conclusion

Thus it can be concluded from this research that the improvements and changes suggested should be implemented for better results so as to reduce the frequency of oil spills. Appropriate response actions are to be carried out with speed to control the situations.