Dog Detection of Oil

Developing an efficient method to detect buried oil deposits with dogs

September 6, 2022

Subsurface Oil

Mapping subsurface oil deposits currently requires digging pits throughout a beach. This method is labor intensive and can miss deposits. What is needed is a rapid way to determine if a beach is clean or has oil deposits.

Methods and Testing

Dogs have the ability, once trained, to detect subsurface oil while moving quickly along a beach. Thus, reducing time and effort required to detect and map subsurface oil and increases the chances of detecting oil. A dog was used to survey beaches in Prince William Sound with and without known oil deposits to test their ability to detect subsurface oil. Professional dog handlers were used to interpret when the dog had detected oil and to ensure a complete survey of the beach.


The dog was successful in locating buried oil deposits in the beaches of Prince William Sound. The dog’s greatest value may be in determining no oil exists in a beach. The cost associated with using dogs is expected to be significantly lower than with previous methods due to the efficiency of the dogs. It is realistic to expect to clear up to five times as much area in a day with this method. The dogs locate the oil where the fumes are strongest, not necessarily directly above the deposit. Further training is necessary for us to fully use the dog capabilities. We found it important to be willing to be flexible in survey design, and the technique requires a team of dog, dog handler, and oil expert to be effective.