Spill drill response lacking; players say lessons learned

Posted: Tuesday, June 27, 2000

The results are in from the unannounced oil spill drill sprung on Tesoro in Nikiski March 8, and the evaluation by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation was mixed.

The drill scenario was to gauge the response by Tesoro and Cook Inlet Spill Prevention Response Inc. to a tanker in Cook Inlet leaking crude oil. The amount of oil was not defined, though the DEC said the volume would have been enough to keep all response equipment operating at 100 percent capacity.

John Kotula, of DEC's Marine Vessel Section in Valdez, said there were some problems with responders not treating the drill seriously.

"In the past there were industry training drills, and they went into this drill with that attitude," Kotula said. "But when the state calls a drill, it's to test response and procedures. Some responders missed that and did not know there was a difference between an industry drill and a DEC drill."

An example from the report said response crews setting up air monitoring equipment did not seem to have been briefed on what was expected of them during real-time recovery exercises. Another cited the responders for not understanding the importance of setting up personnel decontamination procedures during a drill. The report also said that during the deployment of containment equipment, several things went wrong.

"When asked about these situations, one of the responders stated, 'we wouldn't do it this way in a real spill,'" the report said.

It went on to say, "Responders seemed to have knowledge to operate the equipment efficiently, but some did not demonstrate the willingness to do so for the drill."

Kotula said those shortcomings were pointed out to CISPRI, and they have been addressed.

"CISPRI and Tesoro were very receptive to hear everything we had to say," Kotula said.

"I think everyone learned a lot," said Tesoro spokesperson Shawn Brown in Nikiski. "As in every drill, you can do some tweaking and things can be improved on."

Doug Lentsch, general manager of CISPRI, agreed.

"I wouldn't use the word 'success' (to describe the drill), but we learned how to do things better," he said. "We will use this as an opportunity to improve how we respond. It's always good to get the state's opinion on what we did right and wrong."

Another personnel problem occurred when employees were pressed into jobs for which they were not trained.

"We were short a couple of folks in the drill and some people were pushed into positions they were not familiar with," Lentsch said.

The solution, he said, was to have simpler checklists to follow so someone without adequate training in a certain position can do a better job during an emergency.

Equipment shortfalls also were highlighted in the DEC's report.

One problem was the lack of storage capacity for skimmed oil on the vessel Monarch.

"Evaluators did not feel the 200 (barrel) storage tank on the OSV Monarch was sufficient to keep their skimming system operating on a full-time basis," Kotula's report said.

The report said that with an oil recovery rate of 159 barrels of oil per hour, the skimmer would have to be taken out of service so often to empty the tanks as to not allow for continuous skimming operation.

"They had storage available, and I think they should have activated more," Kotula said. "It goes back to the difference between an industry drill and a department drill."

There also was a problem with the operation of a skimmer, because all necessary equipment was not aboard the vessel Heritage Service needed to operate it. A substitute skimmer was deployed instead.

Brown said CISPRI was able to deploy its equipment on-scene and get contract boats from Homer to respond quickly as well.

"Everything was done in a timely manner and met guidelines in the contingency plans," he said.

Many of the response boats CISPRI contracts with come from Homer, as local boats are often out of the water until the fishing season.

Overall, Kotula said the drill was "extremely positive."

"One of the biggest things was how CISPRI was able to assemble all the responders very quickly," he said. "It was a very productive drill, and a lot of lessons were learned."

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