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San Diego Company, SDSU developing sensors to detect oil spills sooner

Slick Sleuth
Posted at 7:42 PM, Oct 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-15 22:42:18-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Seeing images of damage to wildlife and beaches caused by a major oil spill off the coast of Orange County, a San-Diego based company developed sensors it believes would have helped lessen the impact by detecting the oil spill sooner.

InterOcean Systems specializes in manufacturing equipment used for marine research.

“Historically, oil spills have been responded to and not prevented per se,” Chris Chase, the company's General Manager, said.

InterOcean Systems has been developing early detection sensors called Slick Sleuths for 15 years.

Essentially, Chase said the metal boxes use ultraviolet light to detect oil in the water.

“If you’ve been to a nightclub and they have black lights and a white shirt lights up really bright purple, that’s the same physical principle,” Chase said.

Chase said what makes this approach unique is that the devices don’t have to be placed in the water or have direct contact with oil to detect it — unlike many existing monitoring systems.

When oil is detected, the light turns red and an alert is immediately sent to operators.

The company has partnered with San Deigo State University researchers to improve the senors technology, including its ability to detect different types of oil and widening its view range.

"The goal is to have the sensors eventually run off of solar power and require as little electricity as possible. Future versions could be explosion-proof and even function underwater, closer to pipelines," SDSU stated in a press release.

Chase, who is an SDSU alum, said the senors could have helped lessen the impact after a ruptured pipeline leaked tens of thousands of crude oil into the ocean near Orange County.

“That’s an unmanned platform so there’s nobody there to realize something’s going on,” he said.

It wasn’t until a ship off the coast of Huntington Beach noticed the spill and reported it.

The spill killed dozens of wildlife — mostly birds and fishes — destroyed wetlands and temporarily closed beaches.

“Earlier warning would have prompted a sooner response, which would have given them the ability to contain the oil and not have hit as much on the beach or as much wildlife," Chase said.