Spill response seminar held in Bethel
Representatives from wide variety of organizations meet to review techniques, approaches to dealing with spilled oil in rural Alaska
Representatives from various entities, including government agencies, Native villages and oil spill response organizations, attended an annual oil spill response seminar in Bethel July 24 to 26, according to a report by Defense Visual Information Distribution Service. Participating agencies included the U.S. Coast Guard and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. Alaska Chadux Corp. and Global Diving and Salvage participated, as did representatives from the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Orutsaramiut Traditional Native Council.
Time taken to respondLt. Cmdr. Jerome Altendorf, a Coast Guard Sector Anchorage contingency planner, told the seminar that in rural Alaska it can take days or even weeks to deploy responders to a spill site, to assess the situation and develop a response plan. It is, therefore, essential for local village and community residents to be able to self-respond until the Coast Guard, ADEC and the response organizations arrive on the scene.
“The average response time is 72 hours,” said Evan Kressly, an emergency management specialist for Alaska’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “In Alaska it could take anywhere from five days to a week to get resources out.”
In addition, Kressly commented, emergency services are not always called immediately after a spill happens. And it is particularly challenging to ensure that villages know about the support that the Division of Homeland Security can provide in the event of an emergency, he said.
Role of organizationsDuring the seminar the various government agencies and spill response organizations, and other agencies, talked about their roles in responding to an oil spill. The organizations talked about the science of oil spills and the incident command structure that is used in a spill response. Alaska Chadux displayed and discussed the use of spill response equipment, including containment boom.
Matt Melton, Chadux general manager, emphasized that, in rural Alaska, an oil spill can prove detrimental to the Native Alaska way of life, and not just to wildlife.
“The waterways, the lakes, the wetlands - they aren’t just recreational like they are in Southcentral; they are the livelihood of these people in their subsistence lifestyle,” Melton said. “Our goal, first and foremost, is to get out there and stop whatever contamination is happening, so we don’t ruin their way of life.”
Intercommunity networks are essential in responding to an oil spill emergency, Melton said.
Jennifer Sonne, an ADEC environmental program specialist, emphasized that, although different entities have different roles in a spill response, everyone’s primary role is to prepare for but try to prevent oil spills, through appropriate planning.
Cleanup standardAltendorf said that, in the event of a spill, the Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency and ADEC work with federal and state scientific agencies to determine a cleanup standard appropriate to the location of the spill; the environment or wildlife threatened; the product spilled; and the circumstances surrounding the spill.
Kerry Walsh, a marine casualty project manager with Global Diving and Salvage, said that his company will assist a vessel in distress and remove the significant threat of pollution, with Chadux dealing with removing any spilled oil from the water.