Seshadri Ramkumar, Texas Tech University, USA
Oil spill from a refinery in North Chennai, India has turned cyclonic floods into a toxic mixture. Michaung tropical cyclone in Bay of Bengal has battered the northern coast of Tamil Nadu and southern Andhra Pradesh bringing life to standstill since the weekend. As Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu is inundated with floods due to heavy downpour reaching 39-41 cm of rainfall in some areas, crude oil spill has been reported due to a leak in an oil refinery in North Chennai. Areas like Ennore are witnessing thick oil contaminated polluted waters creating panic and distress among the population who have been already suffering due to floods and lack of basic amenities.
Media reports and videos have surfaced today (December 7, 2023) showing hip deep water with oil in some densely populated North Chennai areas.
Crude oil spills are happening frequently around the world due to pipeline breaks, transportation accidents in pipelines through paddy fields and high seas. It will be beneficial to have strategic stockpiling of different oil absorbents and contaminant technologies. Long term planning by oil refineries, transportation groups, national and local governments should involve development of technologies and stockpiling of contaminant and absorbent products.
Environmentally friendly technology developed at the Nonwovens and Advanced Materials Laboratory, Texas Tech University has shown in laboratory studies that one gram of cotton-based absorbent can absorb 30 to 50 grams of oil. The results with crude oil were disclosed, which attracted global attention (https://acrobat.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn%3Aaaid%3Ascds%3AUS%3A3f992360-fa1e-40f7-8e44-f62c09ed0f17).
A collaboration between Texas Tech University and Aruppukkottai, India-based Jayalakshmi Textiles (https://today.ttu.edu/posts/2021/10/Stories/indo-us-collaborative-cotton-based-product-can-absorb-oil-spills-quickly-sustainably) has resulted in the translation of the oil absorbent technology from laboratory to market space. The product has been successful in field trials in Oil and Natural Gas Corporation’s sites in Godavari and Cauvery delta regions.
This collaboration fits with the mission of Government of India’s “Make in India,” initiatives. Texas Tech-Jayalakshmi Textiles collaborative technology aligns with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emphasis on “Thinking Global and Making Local.”
Given the recent oil spill in Chennai amidst heavy floods warrants public sector oil refineries to engage with industry and research laboratories to develop sustainable oil and toxic chemical sorbents. The technology developed at Texas Tech University is field ready and support for scaling up by Jayalakshmi Textiles will result in the mass availability of a proven oil absorbent product. Cotton-based oil absorbent technology when scaled up will be cost effective. Such products have long shelf life and can serve as a countermeasure to oil pollution. Chennai spill is a wake up call for those involved in crude oil and disaster preparedness sectors.