Oil Spill Modeling

In response planning for oil spills and other environmental releases, complex numerical models play a critical role in shaping response actions, detecting impacted resources, and identifying contaminant sources. Through our expertise in modeling, as well as the uses and limitations of such models as part of a response “toolkit,” Exponent scientists and engineers are uniquely poised to assist in performing and evaluating oil spill models. Our expertise in oil spill modeling, risk assessment, release characterization, dispersion modeling, vapor-cloud explosion analysis, environmental chemistry, industrial hygiene, toxicology, and epidemiology allows us to comprehensively examine the consequences of both hypothetical and actual releases of oil and other toxic or flammable substances.

Exponent’s scientists and engineers are experienced with the use, technical evaluation, and interpretation of commercial oil spill models, such as OSCAR and GNOME, to evaluate the transport and fate of petroleum releases. We assist clients in selecting appropriate oil spill models for their specific needs, employing those models in spill investigations and risk assessments, and developing response plans to minimize potential damage from accidental releases. Additionally, we assist clients after spills to answer questions about the effects of the spilled oil in multiple use scenarios, including potential litigation. Importantly, Exponent’s extensive expertise in the field of oil spill science allows us to properly interpret modelled results in the context of available empirical data.

Exponent’s oil spill professionals employ oil spill models to answer client questions related to:

  • Oil spill risk assessments, response, damage assessment, and planning. Examples include: 
    • Oil spill modeling using OSCAR and GNOME, such as the statistical probability map shown in Figure 1.
    • Subsurface release multiphase plume modeling.
    • Vapor dispersion modeling.
    • Critical evaluation of weathering algorithms employed in oil spill models.
    • Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA).
    • Oil characterization and weathering.
    • Oil spill environmental sampling and analysis.
    • Dispersant use.
    • Oil spill response alternative studies (NEBA/SIMA).

  • Designing and evaluating new subsea oil spill technology, for example the mechanical breakup of a subsurface plume, as shown in Figure 2.

  • Environmental risk related to regular releases of produced water and drilling discharges.

Figure 1: Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling of a subsurface oil plume interacting with a transverse water jet. The analysis is used to evaluate the ability of a water jet to mechanically break up an oil plume.


Figure 2: OSCAR oil spill modeling analysis of a shallow subsurface release. Data represents Monte Carlo statistical probability of observing surface contamination during a one-week period following release, based on historical Gulf of Mexico ocean currents.