Public Lab Research note

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Announcing a Public Lab booklet: DIY Oil Testing

by warren |

warren was awarded the Basic Barnstar by clauds for their work in this research note.

Hello all -- today we’re announcing a booklet @gretchen, @stevie, @liz and I put together in December and January on the state of the Oil Testing Kit program, and more broadly on developing open collaborative projects. It has lots of details on oil testing in particular, but also covers topics like working with communities, cultivating online collaboration on hardware, and environmental regulatory issues. It’s full title is DIY Oil Testing: Progress toward community oil pollution analysis

The entire booklet has been posted as a series of wiki pages which you can browse, as well as refine, correct, and edit, here.

To quote from the introduction:

We’re writing this for multiple audiences, who have varied interests and experiences with oil and spectrometry. We’re hoping that everyone finds information useful to them within this document and that the case studies, event models, and analysis on our process will be helpful to anyone who seeks to:

  • join and further Public Lab’s oil testing program
  • understand the history and current state of the Oil Testing Kit
  • conduct experiments using DIY spectroscopy
  • develop their own community technology development project
  • advocate for accessible oil testing

The booklet itself is available for preorder here, beautifully designed by @mlamadrid (see more of her work here):

Order now ($10 paperback)


We’ll be highlighting one of the four chapters each week, and adding more insights and comments we’ve made since the time of writing.

This week, we want to highlight the first chapter, Questions, Motivations, & Best Practices. In this chapter, we wanted to recognize that questions are the start of any research process, and that people with different backgrounds and skillsets can all ask good questions. We also wanted to acknowledge that questions breed more questions, and that we haven’t come close to answering them all.

What we have done is tried to clearly state what we do and do not know, what are likelihoods vs. knowns vs. complete unknowns. See for example this question:

How much do different tests cost?

According to the Surfrider group, which sent many oil samples to different labs over the course of the BP oil spill response, “When we were doing our oil study, we ran batches of ten samples using the 8272 modified solids GCMS method @ $295/sample so, $2995 a set. This was with the understanding that we would be running a lot of samples, so may not reflect the usual pricing.” This is how the per-sample cost broke down from the lab analysis for a lab contracted to run samples in batches:

  • $340 for PAHs including alkylated homologues
  • $1000 for petroleum biomarkers
  • $160 for high resolution GC/FID
  • $2 for sample disposal
  • $700 for data interpretation and reporting

Total cost per sample would be $2202.00

Costs for oil testing vary widely, to as much as $2000 a sample for dispersant testing (according to Surfrider) and as as much as $10,000 for testing with PACE labs according to Scott Eustis (@eustatic) of the Gulf Restoration Network.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this book in so many ways, from our community partners to the Oil Test Kit beta testers, to our fellows and organizers and staff, and to the Knight Foundation, who provided key funding for the project. We hope you enjoy this and help us take the next steps!

(Also -- we'll be sending out copies of this everyone who was directly involved in the project, so please expect an email!)


spectrometer community workshops oil-testing-kit homebrew-oil-testing-kit booklet



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