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Oil spill mitigation gets trial run Monday

Drill tests responders

Posted: Thursday, May 11, 2000

Emergency crews went on full alert Monday morning in Nikiski.

The oil spill was only a simulation, but the surprise call from the Alaska Department of Environ-mental Conservation to Tesoro Alaska was real enough to send contingency planners scrambling.

"It was a big deal," said Buzz Rome, operations manager at Cook Inlet Spill Prevention and Response Inc.

"When you go through an unannounced drill like this, it really gets the adrenaline pumping," he said.

The petrochemical industry conducts frequent drills, but this one involved deploying equipment and calling out standby crews from as far away as Homer. Most drills are table-top exercises.

Rome said the last drill on the Kenai Peninsula of this magnitude that he knows of was in the mid-1990s.

The scenario this week was that a Tesoro tanker had spilled a large volume of Cook Inlet crude off the Kenai Pipeline dock.

More than 50 personnel from CISPRI, Tesoro, DEC, VECO, Peak Oilfield Services and the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council worked on the exercise for 12 hours. Tuesday, managers got together to start reviewing the results.

During the exercise, Tesoro immediately called in CISPRI, which specializes in spill response in Cook Inlet. CISPRI had to marshal its equipment and people, Rome said.

"This was actual deployment," he said.

The response involved eight vessels, about 1,000 feet of oil-containment boom and skimmer, according to a statement from the Cook Inlet RCAC.

The responders had to call back vessels already sailing on routine business involving offshore platforms and the Drift River facility. CISPRI also called out what they call "vessels of opportunity," which work elsewhere but contract to be on-call for emergencies.

CISPRI personnel found that most central peninsula boats still were in winter storage and unable to respond. They had to call in vessels from Homer. Four did sail up, which took about 12 hours, Rome said.

CISPRI had planned that it would take that long to get the vessels.

The unexpected glitch, he said, was that some of the boats were available but still in storage and could not be launched until high tide, which further delayed their response.

DEC plans to release a report evaluating the response in a week or two, said Susan Harvey, the statewide head of oil spill planning for the department.

The department conducts announced and unannounced drills and inspections to verify that regulated companies are ready to respond to potential emergencies.

DEC seldom pops an unannounced drill like this on Tesoro because the company has a good reputation, she said.

"Tesoro is really proactive. We have not hit them with too many drills because they train their own staff," she said.

"They are a good company. They work closely with us."

John Kwietniak, who supervises contingency plans and emergency response for Tesoro in Nikiski, said his company does a variety of drills and Monday's was not out of the ordinary. Tesoro worked with vessels in Homer just a few weeks ago, he said.

The line between announced and unannounced drills blurs, he said, because even during in-house drills few employees know in advance when one will occur.

Harvey emphasized the role such surprise drills play.

"Unannounced drills add the element of reality," she said. "This is the best way to prepare for an actual spill.

"It's just like a fire drill at school."

Harvey declined to comment on specifics of Monday's drill until the report is issued, but indicated it went well overall.

"I think they did good," she said. "We always have some lessons learned. That is the purpose of the drill."



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