Oct 26, 2016

Satellite Remote Sensing of Oil Spills at Sea Good Practice Guide

© IPIECA & IOGP. Satellite remote sensing of oil spills at sea. Good practice guidelines for the application of satellite remote sensing during oil spill response operations

Estimated Article Reading Time: 3 min.


This publication is part of the IPIECA-IOGP Good Practice Guide Series which summarizes current views on good practice for a range of oil spill preparedness and response topics. The series aims to help align industry practices and activities, inform stakeholders, and serve as a communication tool to promote awareness and education.

The series updates and replaces the well-established IPIECA ‘Oil Spill Report Series’ published between 1990 and 2008. It covers topics that are broadly applicable both to exploration and production, as well as shipping and transportation activities.

The revisions are being undertaken by the IOGP-IPIECA Oil Spill Response Joint Industry Project (JIP). The JIP was established in 2011 to implement learning opportunities in respect of oil spill preparedness and response following the April 2010 well control incident in the Gulf of Mexico.

The original IPIECA Report Series will be progressively withdrawn upon publication of the various titles in this new Good Practice Guide Series during 2014–2015.

About this guide

This Good Practice Guide (GPG) builds on two reports, one produced on behalf of the IPIECA-IOGP OSR-JIP entitled An Assessment of Surface Surveillance Capabilities for Oil Spill Response using Satellite Remote Sensing (IPIECA-IOGP, 2014a), and the second published by the American Petroleum Institute entitled Remote Sensing in Support of Oil Spill Response (API, 2013).

The API report focuses on how remote sensing is integrated into overall OSR activity (including the key individual roles remote sensing may be required to play), while the OSR-JIP report concentrates on the surveillance capabilities of satellites (such as the practical issues associated with data availability).

The objective of this Good Practice Guide is to synthesize and summarize the content presented within these reports, and to provide responders, regulators, statutory consultees, industry, non- governmental organizations, oil spill response organizations and academia with an overview of the strategic and operational application of satellite remote sensing for oil spill response.


To respond to an oil spill effectively, those involved in the response operations require accurate and timely information on the location, the quantity and characteristics of the oil spilled and the characteristics of the areas likely to be impacted by the spilled oil. This information enables the incident command to effectively determine the scale and nature of the oil spill scenario, make decisions on where and how to respond, control various response operations and, over time, confirm whether or not the response is effective.

Surveillance is key to providing this ‘situational awareness’ during an oil spill response operation. It is supported by a range of different technologies and techniques, from traditional and well-tested observation from vessels and aerial platforms to the use of innovative, small-scale unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Satellite remote sensing for oil spill response

Satellite remote sensing (SRS) is an additional surveillance tool that can be readily used to provide synoptic and strategic information to the response. Remote sensing is the acquisition of data about an object or phenomenon without making physical contact with it, often using electromagnetic radiation. Satellites, and the sensors onboard, can be used as remote sensing platforms to measure properties of the Earth from above the atmosphere and to gather data that can be used for a variety of applications.

For oil spill response, satellite imagery provides information that can be used to support various missions, including assessing the initial (and potential future) extent and impact of a spill, planning response operations and monitoring the effectiveness of the response as a whole.

To fulfill these roles, satellite remote sensing must meet various requirements of the response, including delivering information within certain timelines or at regular intervals. It must also be able to operate in a variety of environmental conditions, including during adverse weather.

Operational guidance: using satellite remote sensing within an oil spill response

This GPG provides operational guidance on how to:

  • prepare a satellite image plan;
  • establish the roles and responsibilities required during the response; l follow and manage the acquisition of satellite imagery; and
  • understand the technology (and its limitations) involved.

A basic checklist that should be followed when using satellite remote sensing as part of an oil spill response can be found on page 57, and lists the steps that should be followed prior to, during and after an incident.

Satellite remote sensing of oil spills at sea