Throughout the summer, Coast Guard cutters and aircraft have been conducting exercises and training off the coast of Alaska to implement plans to mitigate potential impacts from a pollution incident in the Arctic. Concurrent with these efforts, scientists at the Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center (RDC) in New London, Conn., are working to develop new ways to tackle the unique challenges of cleaning up oil spills from icy water. Among those challenges are the logistics of deploying necessary response equipment to the incident scene in a timely manner and supporting it on-site.
From July 31-Aug. 2, the RDC conducted an exercise, sponsored by the Coast Guard’s Seventeenth District and with support by the National Strike Force Coordination Center and the U.S. Navy Supervisor of Salvage and Diving, to demonstrate existing capabilities to transport oil recovery equipment to the region and to support this equipment under actual conditions found in the Arctic. As part of the exercise, equipment was transported aboard Coast Guard Cutter Sycamore from its homeport of Cordova, Alaska, through the Bering Strait and to a site at the leading edge of the sea ice off the coast of Barrow. Other systems were transported to Prudhoe Bay by truck and then loaded onto a barge which provided an additional support platform for the exercise.
While he was pleased that the exercise was successful, RDC engineer Kurt Hansen cautioned that an exercise does not include all of the support that would be available in a real oil spill, and, therefore, an actual emergency would require more complex collaboration.
Hansen added that it is important to remember “what would happen during a spill could be completely different in an exercise … the more we get to try things out before these things happen, the better it is.” The exercise also included the deployment of three equipment arrays, providing Coast Guard personnel with valuable observations and lessons learned to support ongoing efforts to evaluate systems for removing oil from icy waters. This exercise in the Arctic builds upon work that has previously been done to test response equipment in icy waters in the Great Lakes.
Related exercises in the Great Lakes and Alaska are planned for 2013.