Oil "fingerprints" could lead to source of pollution

Jan 28, 1997 01:00 AM

The "fingerprints" identifying each of the world's crude oils could pinpoint the source of deliberate and accidental spills and help track down polluters, Britain's Institute of Offshore Engineering said recently. The European Crude Oil Identification System (EUROCRUDE), already in use in Ireland, has been developed in a joint venture between six European laboratories to collect the prints. "The database will greatly improve the ability to trace the crude oil back to the country, or even specific oilfield where it is produced,'' the Institute said in a report. Institute Assistant Director Steve Grigson said the system, which also includes data such as tanker registrations, would be used by the British coastguard and was available to the other countries involved in its development -- Germany, Norway, Denmark, Portugal and Belgium. It was also under evaluation in the United States, Australia and some countries in Eastern Europe, he added. An institute report said crude oil pollution usually originates from illegal discharges of oil residues by tankers or accidental spillages from oil platforms and pipelines. Grigson stressed EUROCRUDE had certain limitations, as the forensic evidence from spills it provides can only form part of a court case and is not enough to obtain a conviction alone. "In different countries it has different relative importance...but it is becoming more and more important and is a fairly crucial part now of prosecution cases," he said. If convicted, the party responsible would have to meet the cost of cleaning up any oil spilt. It is hoped this would act as a deterrent and reduce pollution, Grigson said.

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