FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A test in the Beaufort Sea shows that BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. needs to be more prepared to clean up any oil spill in ice-choked waters, state environmental officials say.
''Clearly, there is some room for improvement,'' said Susan Harvey, spill prevention manager with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
In March, the state prohibited BP from production drilling on its offshore fields during times of broken ice, the months when pack ice retreats and ice floes clog waterways. The prohibition won't be lifted until the state signs off on a spill response plan.
The prohibition followed a 1999 exercise in which BP had trouble even getting out of the docking area.
In July, BP put its system to the test among the ice floes about nine miles north of Prudhoe Bay. The preliminary findings are back from that drill, Harvey said Monday.
Based upon initial predictions of industry experts, the spill response system was supposed to work in waters containing up to 70 percent broken ice. The test demonstrated an ability to operate in up to 30 percent ice.
''At 30 percent concentrations, booms are not snapping and skimmers are not being ripped off the side of the barge,'' she said.
DEC is worried that the propeller wash from all the spill response boat activity would help emulsify the oil and water mixture, and drive the oil further down into the water column.
Another concern is that the vessels moving the largest ice floes out from in front of the spill response fleet would also be moving the oil away.
BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell said his company shares many of the concerns expressed by DEC about the July test.
''When the testing program is done we'll be getting together with the state and talking about how to proceed ... I think we're on our way to defining what the limits are, that there clearly are limits,'' Chappell said.
BP plans another round of testing in broken ice at the end of this month. DEC intends to use the results of that pending test and the July drill to create a full report by the end of the year, Harvey said.
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