In this series of articles, we look to highlight the activity of OSRL’s Subject Matter Experts (SME) programme and the working groups established to advance each discipline’s objectives.
This week we spoke to Nick Olden, SWIS Operations Supervisor and co-chair of the Offshore Working Group. Here, he explains the activity of the group, its current objectives and why it is such an important topic for the industry and OSRL.
Firstly, what can you tell us about the Offshore Core Group?
The role of the Offshore Core Group is fundamentally to drive the development of OSRL’s internal and external offshore capabilities. We’re looking at all aspects of offshore response; from vessel selection and different types of boom systems to new and emerging technology, and how it could positively impact our operations.
More specifically, a big part of our activity is interested in reviewing, updating and developing the templates and processes we use during an offshore incident. We are looking to understand how we can rationalise and streamline our approach through the development of a more cohesive set of documentation.
Another aspect of the group is working hand-in-hand with our members and OEMs to explore new technology, to test and validate its potential, and offer advice on where improvements could be made. We also have a level of responsibility over purchasing; making recommendations on new asset purchases and then, once in place, rolling out equipment globally and training our teams and members’ personnel on how they work.
A lot of what we are interested in is also closely tied to other core groups’ focuses, so we work with several other teams – such as dispersants and shoreline – to develop a joint approach, where our policies and processes complement each other.
Currently the Offshore Core Group is headed by one of OSRL’s operations managers, Matt Simmons, who’s based out in Fort Lauderdale. We then have two co-chairs, Shane Jacobs and myself, as well as five other regular members of the group. In line with all the core groups, everyone has either come from an offshore background or has a personal interest in the topic, so it is an engaged and motivated team.
We also have an industry sponsor in Victoria Broje. Victoria works for Shell and has over 20 years of international experience in all aspects of oil spill response. She is a subject matter expert on several offshore-related activities, such as mechanical recovery, dispersants use, in-situ burning, remote sensing and modelling. Having her as part of the team is really helpful and provides a bank of knowledge and proficiency for us to tap into.
What can you tell us about your recent and current objectives?
One of our most significant achievements to date has been the development of new documentation for specifying and validating a vessel of opportunity (VOO) during an incident. Historically, the listed criteria for specific vessel functions was inconsistent and had the potential to create unnecessary challenges if certain aspects weren’t considered.
The new package we’ve created is basically a complex checklist but one which has considered a lot of variables during its development. We reached out to responders, members and our own team, and agreed a set of requirements and vessel types. Now, when an incident occurs, there is an agreed process to follow in terms of selecting a suitable vessel of opportunity.
For example, our primary requirement is safety: Is the vessel safe to operate from? Once that has been established, we look at the equipment and personnel requirements and ensure that there is sufficient deck space for our needs, as well as other technical aspects of the vessel. All this information is recorded and approved so we know there won’t be any surprises out on the water. Having been involved in this area for some time, it is a big step forward for us as an organisation, and our members. Also, the new approach has already been endorsed by BP, following trials earlier this year.
The next big objective for the group is to look at in situ burning, or ISB. We have a remit to create a set of globally applicable guidelines, which will detail the relevant local laws and licensing conditions to enable ISB to be performed, or not. Again, safety is the biggest factor for us but there are also big differences country-to-country in terms of what is allowed and what isn’t so the new guidelines need to clearly convey the opportunity and restrictions.
In addition to improving safety, the documentation will hopefully improve the time it takes to agree on a ISB strategy, making things easier and enabling us to respond faster.
Another objective for the group is new technology and understanding its potential. On that note, we have been invited to take part in sea trials for a new unmanned surface vessel (USV). This is a slightly different approach to normal, as we have been invited by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) so we are primarily observing, but we’ll be looking to understand the potential value and use cases for the technology.
What’s next for the Offshore group?
Right now, we are focused on developing our ISB guidelines but we’ll get new objectives from the executive committee in due course. Equally, there is always new technology being developed, both within the field of spill response and for other industries, so we will continue to review, test and validate any equipment or software that we believe could have a positive impact on our activity.
We will also continue to engage with our internal and external audiences through exercises and speaking opportunities.