Proceedings magazine is a communication tool for the Coast Guard's Marine Safety & Security Council. Each quarterly magazine focuses on a specific theme of interest to the marine industry.
Issue link: http://uscgproceedings.epubxp.com/i/617100
14 Proceedings Winter 2015–2016 www.uscg.mil/proceedings with no obvious, single source identifed during the physi- cal investigation. Pollution responders may narrow the list of possible sources by evaluating vessel traffc logs, transfer operations, witness statements, aerial surveillance, or other components, but still lack direct evidence implicating a sin- gle responsible party. By sampling the spilled oil as well as each suspected source, investigators can eliminate suspects and may ultimately yield the evidence necessary to identify the responsible party. Additionally, critical investigative details may be obtained from fngerprinting a mystery spill even in the absence of suspected sources, as the type of petroleum oil discharged and how degraded it is can help guide pollution respond- ers. This guidance may spare investigators from wasting resources pursuing dead ends, such as examining fuel suppliers when the spilled product is lubricating oil. Per- haps equally important, submitting a mystery spill sam- ple ensures the sample is preserved at the chemical level (weathering ceases after MSL sample preparation) and at the evidentiary level, pending fnal case disposition. The investigation into the SS Jacob Luckenbach epitomizes how integral petroleum oil fngerprinting can be to solving mystery spill cases. 2 During this investigation, an oil spill source identifcation task force comprised of 20 federal and state agents worked to determine the source of petroleum oil affecting more than 2,000 birds and 220 miles of cen- tral California coastline. The 2001–2002 mystery spill event shared many commonalities with prior mystery spill events occurring in the same area since 1992, prompting the task force to re-evaluate the historical events. Throughout 1992–2002, the MSL received samples from oiled wildlife and suspected sources. While each suspected source was a "non-match" to the oiled birds, a vital and surprising result did come from the analysis, as the mystery spills from 1992–2002 all had the same petroleum oil fnger- print. This fnding was imperative for the task force, since it The Marine Safety Laboratory (MSL) was established in November 1977 to help U.S. Coast Guard pollution respond- ers investigate oil spills and enforce the nation's environ- mental laws. Nearly 40 years later, the MSL still stands as the Coast Guard's sole forensic laboratory for oil spill source identifcation and organizes the efforts of various federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to provide analysis to feld investigators. While the majority of MSL samples are from routine oil spills, there are many applications in which petroleum oil fngerprinting can be of signifcant investiga- tive value. Fingerprinting Petroleum oil "fingerprinting" is a term adopted in the mid-1970s, when the Coast Guard Research and Develop- ment Center (RDC) developed the Oil Identifcation Sys- tem (OIS). 1 It refects the idea that every petroleum oil has a unique chemical composition, or fngerprint. There have been marked technological advancements since then, but the premise remains the same: Use a multimethod analyti- cal approach to evaluate the intrinsic composition of oil sam- ples, then make comparisons to determine if the samples derive from a common source. Current MSL analytical techniques include infrared spec- troscopy, gas chromatography with fame ionization detec- tor, and gas chromatography with mass selective detector. These techniques are sensitive enough to permit staffers to evaluate samples at the molecular level and compare fnger- prints for similarities and differences. Two oil samples "match" if they have the same fngerprint after weathering (when chemical, physical, and biological factors change the oil) and other contaminants are accounted for. A match is signifcant in that it provides forensic evi- dence of a chemical relationship between two samples. Taking the Mystery Out of Mystery Spills A routine Marine Safety Laboratory case is one in which petroleum oil has been discharged into the environment Whodunnit? Petroleum oil fngerprinting. by Ms. KRisty JuaiRe Manager and Supervisory Chemist U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Laboratory Investigations National Center of Expertise