INTERVIEW: Castrol Environmental Specialist Susannah Linington

Susannah-LiningtonMARINE LOG recently interviewed Castrol's Environmental Specialist Susannah Linington to gain some insights into how marine lubricants are playing their part in the drive for greener shipping.

Ms. Linington has a BSc in Marine Chemistry and an MSc in Water Pollution Control Technology.  She is a Chartered Chemist and Chartered Environmentalist.  As a passionate advocate of environmental protection, she has pursued a career in environmental management, first in the pharmaceuticals, then telecommunications and finally the oil and gas industry. She joined BP Castrol in 2006 and works for the Marine and Energy Lubricants business unit as an Environmental Specialist.  She is responsible for understanding and predicting the global legislative and customer environmental drivers associated with the use of products in shipping and offshore and their impacts on the marine environment.  This information is used by the Research and Development teams to develop environmentally responsible products in advance of legislative and customer needs. She is involved in raising regulatory and industry awareness of environmentally responsible lubricants.

ML: Part of your job as an Environmental Specialist for the Marine and Energy Lubricants unit of BP Castrol is to keep your finger on the pulse of emerging global legislative efforts impacting shipping. What legislative efforts should shipping keep its eye on?

Susannah Linington: Marine shipping does not currently need to comply with a great deal of legislation in relation to substances used on board. The offshore oil and gas industry, however, is very highly regulated, particularly in the North Sea.

A great deal of attention is given to the chemicals used on and discharged from an offshore installation used either for exploration drilling or for long term production. Some of these, such as well chemicals, are deliberately discharged in their normal use. Others are assessed as the risk of discharge or spill is considered to be high because of the equipment in which they are used.

The standards for environmental compliance which are defined within the OSPAR HMCS regulations which apply to the North Sea are being adopted by most other oil and gas regulators around the world as they are considered to be the most appropriate to measure the overall impact of a substance – not just its persistence. Individual components within the formulation are tested to determine their toxicity, with testing on four different species at different trophic levels in the marine food chain, plus bioaccumulation potential and biodegradation tendency to determine their persistence. These results are taken together with the likelihood and scale of a potential release to fully document the impact upon the environment around the area of operations.

There are many pieces of emerging legislation and standards for shipping that reflect this change in approach.

In Europe the focus on marine lubricants environmental effects is being raised. The revised European Ecolabel for lubricants has extended its jurisdiction to include marine applications and marine environmental test methods. It also includes technical performance criteria that lubricants must meet to ensure effective performance in marine applications.

Hydraulic fluids, stern tube greases, wire rope lubricants, stern tube oils and marine gear oils can now be assessed for Ecolabel approval using data from marine environmental testing.

Increased demand for effective shipping routes and cruises to previously inaccessible destinations has led vessels into increasing sensitive marine areas.  Guidelines have been issued by the International Maritime Organization's Maritime Safety Committee and Marine Environment Protection Committee for ships operating in polar waters. "Sterntube bearings, seals and main propulsion components located outside the hull should not leak pollutants. Non-toxic, biodegradable lubricants are not considered to be pollutants (Ref. Resolution A.1024(26).  Guidelines for Operating in Polar Waters.  Section 7.2.3).  Therefore again the environmental characteristics of lubricants are being used to assess suitability for use in these sensitive environments.

Marine Protected Areas are set up primarily for the conservation of marine biodiversity and to protect species and habitats of national or international importance.  There is a UN target for 10% of oceans to be protected by 2012.  Currently 0.8% are protected.  There are 5000 MPAs worldwide with the South Orkney Marine Protected Area approved last year.

Potential future MPAs are:

  • Mediterranean
  • West & Central Pacific
  • Pacific Abyssal Plain
  • Grand Banks
  • Sargasso Sea
  • Charlie Gibbs fracture zone (mid Atlantic Ridge – OPSAR area) – first high seas MPA

Marine Protected Areas don't mean no shipping, just careful environmental management.  This may lead to stricter controls on chemical discharges within these areas.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., recent updates to the Clean Water Act require all ship-source discharges – including lubricants - to be monitored and reported on a regular basis, urging "Owner/operators to use an environmentally preferable lubricant, for applications at risk of operational discharge" (Ref. Vessel General Permit for Discharges Incidental to the Normal Operation of Vessels (VGP).  Authorisation to Discharge Under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.  Section 2.2.9).

The Vessel General Permit applies to Controllable Pitch Propeller and Thruster Hydraulic Fluids and other Oil to Sea Interfaces including Lubrication discharges from Paddle Wheel Propulsion, Stern Tubes, Thruster Bearings, Stabilizers, Rudder Bearings, Azimuth Thrusters, Propulsion Pod Lubrication, and Wire Rope and Mechanical Equipment Subject to Immersion.

It states that "Owner/operators should use an environmentally preferable lubricant, including vegetable oil, synthetic ester, or polyalkylene glycol as a base for these applications when feasible. Use of an environmentally preferable lubricant does not authorize the discharge of any lubricant in a quantity that may be harmful".

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in the process of reviewing the criteria in the Vessel General Permit for the selection of these environmentally preferable lubricants for use in stern tubes and thrusters.  This should lead to improved criteria for measuring the environmental performance of lubricants used in these applications.

ML: "Green" is today's "black." Many lubricants have branded themselves as being "green." What makes lubricants green or environmentally friendly?

SL: Many lubricants claim to be "environmentally friendly" or "environmentally preferable" or "food grade" but what does this actually mean scientifically?  Nothing….. When choosing an environmental lubricant, you need to make sure that any environmental claims are backed up with relevant scientific data. If they leak, lubricants used in shipping and offshore will leak into the sea and so should be tested under conditions that mimic the marine environment, not freshwater or soil environments.   This is not always easy as marine tests are generically harder to pass.  There must also be clearly defined criteria for measuring the environmental performance of the lubricant, again relevant to the receiving environment.  A food grade lubricant may be safe for humans, but highly toxic to marine life.  Therefore it is important to ask the right questions and get the right information to enable the most appropriate products to be selected.

The key environmental characteristics that affect the impact of lubricants in the marine environment are:

Marine biodegradation: how quickly a chemical naturally breaks down in the sea. Is the chemical going to break down rapidly in the sea or is it going to stick around and persist for many years to come  If a chemical biodegrades quickly, it has less potential to bioaccumulate or be toxic.

Test methods: OECD 306 or BODIS (biodegradation in seawater).

What you want: More than 60 percent of the chemical to have biodegraded within 28 days or more than 20% of the chemical to have biodegraded within 28 days if it is non-bioaccumulative and non-toxic.

Bioaccumulation: the potential for a chemical to accumulate in the fatty tissue of an organism and enter the food chain.  Bioaccumulative substances can be silent and gradual killers as their effects are not instant unlike highly toxic substances.  Bioaccumulative chemicals entering the marine environment are taken up into the fatty tissues of small organisms and fish in water and increase in concentration as they are taken up by animals higher up the food chain that feed on them (including fish-eating humans!).  They especially accumulate in fish and marine mammals such as seals and whales, reaching levels that may be many thousands of times higher than in water. For example, PCBs (manmade chemicals) were used historically as coolants and lubricants in electrical equipment.  Through a variety of means e.g. spills leaks, fires, waste disposal they have found their way into the marine environment.  This has resulted in PCBs being detected throughout the marine foodchain, particularly high levels being found in polar bears and also widely in human blood serum and breast milk.

Test methods: OECD 117 or 107 or molecular weight of component.

What you want: Chemicals with reduced potential for bioaccumulation. Log Pow <3 in OECD 117 or 107; molecular weight >700 (too big to enter organism).

Marine toxicity: the potential to kill marine life. It is important to determine toxic effects at several representative levels within the foodchain as they are all interlinked.  For example it takes millions of liters of seawater containing algae to produce just 1 kg of fish.  Therefore it is important not only to assess toxicity potential in fish, but also to algae, as toxic effects at this level will affect fish production higher up the food chain.

Test methods: ISO 10253, Marine Algal Growth Inhibition Test, Skeletonema costatum; ISO 14669, Determination of Acute Lethal Toxicity to Marine Copepods, Acartia tonsa; PARCOM 1995/ OECD 203, Fish Acute Toxicity test, Scophthalmus maximus; and PARCOM 1995, A Sediment Bioassay Using an Amphipod, Corophium volutator.

What you want: Chemicals with low toxicity for the different species in the food chain. Toxicity (LC50) >10 mg/l.

In summary - products should be designed and tested for the marine environment and should biodegrade readily in the sea, have reduced bioaccumulation potential and low toxicity in the marine environment.

ML: Lubricants are used extensively in shipping and the offshore market. What are some of the risks  they pose when released into the environment?

SL: Marine lubricant spills and releases are usually smaller, less visible than classical oil spills, but very frequent.  Therefore these large number of small releases go largely unnoticed and unreported.  The mixture of crude oil base stocks and additives (up to 30 oercent of the finished lubricants) can result in persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals entering the marine environment, particularly near coasts, where 80% of shipping movements occur. The effects can impact marine ecosystems at all levels and result in chemicals working their way through the food chain up to humans.castrol

According to a recent study by Dr Stephen Mudge, "There are many different modes of action by which an oil or lubricant may adversely affect species and these include:

  1. Direct toxicity of oil or lubricant components, especially to the liver and kidneys in mammals and fish, but also to the phytoplankton at the bottom of the food chain through reduction in photosynthesis. This may result in a reduction of food resources for higher trophic levels.
  2. Indirect toxicity by reducing the breeding success and by passage of compounds into the young or through suppression of the immune system. This may be through bioaccumulation or bioconcentration of compounds over a long period of time."

In a 2009 study of the scale of operational lubricant pollution, Dr Dagmar Etkin has found that "between 33,000 tonnes and 61,000 tonnes of oil-based lubricants are discharged each year into port and harbor waters alone, due to operational leaks and discharges.

(A "discharge" is defined as the routine release or input of small amounts of oil to marine waters during normal vessel operations. "Leakage" is defined as the unintentional release of oil to marine waters during routine operations due to the wearing down of seals between the lubricating oil vesicles on a vessel and marine waters. A "spill" is defined as an incident of accidental or intentional release of oil into marine waters.)

Lubricant leakage and discharges across the entire marine environment, including open seas, populated coastal waters, ecologically sensitive areas and ports and harbors, can be projected to as much as 244,000 tonnes a year, based on the amount of time ships are at sea"  ...  This is a significant level of pollution; it is therefore important to understand applications/machineries at risk of operational discharges, as well as industry solutions to this problem.

ML: Tell us about Castrol's Bio Range. Where would they be used?

SL: In all applications where there's a risk of lubricants going into the sea.

Systems that result in high levels of discharge or a high probability of entry into the sea (red in diagram) are considered to be high risk. Applications that contain relatively small lubricant volumes (green in diagram) and from which, even under fault conditions, the lubricant could not enter the sea are considered to be very low risk. Between these two extremes, are those systems that present a significant risk to the environment, as anything spilled or leaked directly enters the sea (orange in diagram). For these systems, it is important to select products that minimise environmental impact.

Castrol decided to develop a new lubricant range for applications throughout a vessel where leakages present a risk. This is a pioneering approach to take in relation to marine lubricants.

The OSPAR assessment criteria are the standard of environmental performance which Castrol is working towards for lubricants supplied to both the offshore and marine markets. Although these regulations do not cover the shipping industry, they are considered the most appropriate standards to measure the impact of released chemicals and it seems likely that their standards will be adopted in the future.

Castrol products are designed to have:

  • Reduced environmental impact when compared to conventional lubricants and demonstrable benefits in the following key environmental performance criteria:-
  • Superior biodegradation
  • Significantly reduced bioaccumulation* and toxicity
  • Enhanced renewability
  • Using OSPAR criteria for assessing bioaccumulation potential

The performance of these new fluids as lubricants is in no way compromised by their improved environmental characteristics. This would be totally unacceptable to the end user as it would at best give reduced equipment availability through increased maintenance requirements and at worst could compromise safety or even affect the overall environmental impact of operations – the very thing we are seeking to improve.

These products give a viable alternative to companies that want to cut their impact on the world's marine environment.

Learn more about the Castrol Bio range

September 12, 2011

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