Expert systems are computer programs that emulate a human expert's decision-making process in a particular domain of knowledge. Over 15,000 expert systems have been developed around the world for assistance over a wide range of topics and subjects. Expert systems are seen as having a dual use as they assist in the training of individuals in a particular subject, and they also offer fast, effective on-the-spot advice in the form of easy to answer questions.

Oil spill response requires highly technical training and specialized knowledge. Several expert systems have been created to assist responders in the event of an oil spill and subjects have included beach cleanup, in situ burning of oil, protecting sensitive shorelines and the use of dispersants among others.

However, none of the published oil spill response expert systems to date have incorporated how to effectively sample an oil spill, and yet the sampling of an oil spill needs to adhere to strict legal, International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) protocols in order to produce accurate and defensible data. The correct assimilation of data from oil spill response ensures that the responsible party/parties can be identified and are held accountable for any environmental damage that the spill has caused.

The authors have recognized the gap in sampling guidance within all the available Oil Spill Response expert systems worldwide and therefore have created the Oil Spill Sampling Advisor or (OSSA) expert system through Leeder Consulting in Australia. The OSSA expert system is the first of its kind; a unique system to train and assist responders and pollution investigators with how to successfully take samples that will produce legally defensible data before, during and after an oil spill.

For many small or developing countries (or ships at sea), it is not only highly impractical but also too costly to bring in sampling experts every time a spill occurs. As a result, if the responsible party has not been identified, the costs of cleanup and the environmental burden are frequently left for governments to bear. However, the new OSSA expert system provides a cost-effective means to help find oil spill polluters so that they can be responsible for paying the costs of cleanup. The OSSA expert system assists with training people to collect defensible forensic evidence, and it also provides on-the-spot information and advice to anyone having to collect an urgent spill sample. This includes all the necessary forms to be printed and filled out in order to ensure legal defensibility of the samples and resulting analytical data. Operating from a CD-ROM or an onboard ship laptop computer, OSSA is completely portable and accessible anywhere in the world at any time.

This paper covers the advantages, disadvantages and common misconceptions of expert systems in the field of oil spill response. It also addresses how expert systems can be used as teaching tools and the unique framework utilized by Leeder Consulting in the creation of the OSSA expert system.

This content is only available as a PDF.