Spill response readiness gets boost

Posted: Tuesday, October 09, 2001

If oil spills into the water, the first few hours are critical to a successful response. Either the spiller or government agencies must immediately begin deploying the necessary response personnel and equipment needed to contain the oil and protect sensitive areas.

The first phase of the response is to maximize containment at the source of the spill. The second phase is to intercept the oil in open water before it enters the nearshore environment. The third phase is to protect environmentally sensitive areas.

In Cook Inlet, a cooperative effort among the oil production and transportation industries, the Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound regional citizens advisory councils, local governments, village councils and state and federal agencies has significantly improved the ability to accomplish the third phase -- the protection of sensitive resources.

Over the last two years, a work group has designed "Geographic Response Strategies," or GRS, for 22 sites in Cook Inlet and is in the process of completing another 21 sites in Kachemak Bay. The long-range plan is to have strategies in place for the entire Cook Inlet. The GRS documents cover environmentally sensitive areas that could potentially be impacted by an oil spill.

A few of the sites covered by the GRS documents for central Cook Inlet include the Kenai River, Ninilchik River and the Kasilof River. The 21 sites in Kachemak Bay include Halibut Cove, Peterson Bay and English Bay. A complete listing of the GRS sites is available at the Cook Inlet RCAC Web site at www.circac.org.

The work group evaluated many factors in choosing the sites that were selected for a GRS.

At the top of the list were three considerations: the sensitivity of the site, the risk of the area being impacted by an oil spill and the ability to protect the area with existing technology. Using these guidelines, the work group came up with a preliminary list of GRS sites. The list was published as a public notice and forwarded to dozens of interest groups and local governments for their input. The public comments that came back to the work group were carefully considered and, for the most part, incorporated into the final document.

Each GRS contains a map diagram, photographs and a table. It includes easy-to-read legends that point out where access is available, ideal locations for boom deployment, possible staging areas and structures such as docks and campgrounds. The table is a compilation of information the responders will need to protect the area. In concise language, it outlines response strategies, equipment needs, access information, resources that need to be protected and special considerations unique to the area.

The GRS documents are not a substitute for the experience and knowledge of the professionals who are experts in oil spill response. Professional responders still need to make decisions in the field based on their evaluation of the situation. The strategies provide an important head start that response crews can use to quickly protect a site.

Cook Inlet Spill Prevention and Response, Inc. and the Alaska Chadux Corp. have been a valuable part of the GRS work group effort and have been testing the GRS documents in the field to make sure they are feasible.

The GRS work has not only improved oil spill response readiness, it has brought together a diverse group of people who are interested in keeping the waters of Cook Inlet free from pollution.

Cook Inlet RCAC strongly believes that working together with industry, local governments, interest groups and regulators will prevent the type of complacency that was prevalent prior to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in 1989.

Joe Gallagher is the public outreach coordinator for the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council.

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