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A sneak preview of spill response in cold climates and ice infested waters

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

OSRL’s response specialist, Bjørnar Andrè Fonn, participated in a pilot course on spill response in cold climates and ice infested waters, a project by the Norwegian Clean Seas Association for Operating Companies (NOFO), lead and facilitated by the Norwegian Fire Academy. This course is a pilot for a course which is undergoing development, and will be finalised in 2017.

The course aims to help participants understand the challenges of working in cold climates, the fate and effect of oil in cold climates, knowledge of preventive measures to avoid harm to personnel and damage to equipment, and the ability to utilise relevant resources during a response.

Bjørnar answers some of our questions about the course and cold weather response.

 

 During a response in cold climate, what is most notable from a Health, Safety and the Environment (HSE) perspective?

We must remember the environment plays a dominant influence.

The cold climate can influence your work attitude, level of vigilance for yourself and your team members, and affect the equipment, all of which affects how we can work safely. When the ice and snow moves, it influences the response effort – oil may be naturally contained, or weathering may be slower, or response plans may change. As we work safely towards an end goal, we need to take into consideration our own vulnerabilities. We need to keep alert, quickly identify new risks and mitigate them – make continuous risk assessments as we work! Experience helps reduce reaction time during critical incidents, e.g. when a team member falls into water.

The course also covered the basics of Personal Protective Equipment, focusing on a personal kit, including sharing by the Norwegian Civil Defense and Special Forces. Knowledge of layering is important, and for many situations, we found that the headlamp is an essential item.

 

What happens when someone falls in the water?

We had ice rescue training, which is valuable when working near or on ice. You have limited time to react before the situation becomes critical. We learnt how to use the Rapid Deployment Craft, how to quickly secure rope and rig climbing gear, and also went into water wearing a thick thermal suit, work suit (dry suit) and buoyancy vest, which kept us warm even after a few minutes in the water. With this practical experience, we can reduce our reaction time should such an incident occur, and bring that person to safety as fast as possible.

 

How does the weather impact response?

In a cold climate, we have to understand that not only is the weather severe, it is also highly variable. The weather changes also occur quickly. The changes influence how we allocate resources and adjust activities.

We need to understand which locations are more vulnerable. Besides dealing with heavy snowfall and rain, wind can also affect our response efforts (mostly onshore at summertime and offshore at wintertime). The distribution of snow and ice is also dependent on air and sea surface temperatures, as well as the sea current.

I think this course could have covered more on meteorology because the changes in the environment affect each other, and it is important we learn how to read the signs and predict changing weather in order to respond efficiently and safely. I understand NOFO has another separate course in meteorology, which may complement this course.

 

What works in icy conditions?

The course provided a lot of practical experience with equipment, and we could use the equipment on the Norwegian Fire Academy’s test pool, which had oil on good thick ice. We used the Brush Skimmer, Foxtail Mini, and had the opportunity to attempt a full in-situ burn on site. We also used a UAV for reconnaissance.

We learnt the Foxtail Mini is very versatile and a good choice for ice-infested waters. It is smaller and useful for a first response.

Out in the field it’s important to establish a good base, and provide good facilities. We put up the command tent, heating unit, working lights and toilet facilities. Heated shelter with available food and drinks will be vital during a response effort. This means we can rotate people in and out of the operation, and keep personnel safe and healthy.

The base was also used for equipment storage, launch and recovery. Boom was to be pulled directly from the pallet and out at sea. This reduced response time and the need for cranes and other facilities.

Snow is beneficial in some situations. For example, it makes a good slipway to drag boom down to sea, and reduces wear on equipment during launch and recovery.

 

How can we use a UAV?

We conducted a reconnaissance of two areas, one for a field base and then the exercise “incident” area. We got familiar with the use of UAV`s as a tool for site surveys and mapping.

The Norwegian Fire Academy has trained a few drone pilots, and had purchased one UAV for trial use. The UAV chosen was the DJI Phantom 3, which turned out to be more than capable for the general tasks we needed. This UAV was able to perform in heavy rain, and keep its battery life in -10 degrees celsius.

For upcoming courses, the Fire Academy wants to attempt a live stream directly from location, and do a “real-time” site survey with the class. This will allow them to both demonstrate the practical usage, and to get a sense of how the incident command will work, getting data and surveys back from the field. Knowing the possibilities and improvements is important. Safer and more efficient tools can be used, minimizing risk to personnel. We can plan the area layout, zoning and do a preliminary risk assessment, all without being on site.

 

What did you learn about burning oil on ice?

During the in-situ burn exercise, we managed to get a fire going at two places simultaneously. Ideally, slick thickness needs to be maintained at two to five millimeters. If we had another chance to plan a burn, we would need to get a boom across the pool to pull the oil and ice mass into a more concentrated area. The use of herders has also been considered for in-situ burning, and would help us create that slick thickness.

 

How can we improve our response in cold climates?

 Adopting industry best practices, utilising emerging technology like UAVs to provide us with essential data and staying abreast of new developments maintains and improves capability, and prevents complacency.

We need to be able to adjust our resources, adapt to the dynamic environment as well as know what we can do, including our limitations. 

It is important we maintain focus on exercises in cold climate and remote locations. This will allow us to strengthen our logistical capabilities, as well as overall preparedness. One thing we really need to consider is having some exercises in dark conditions. During the winter months, we may only experience a brief period of dusk lighting and than it is darkness again. We had some of the course days extend into the evening, and got to operate skimmers in the test pool in dark conditions. But we have yet to run coastal operations or offshore operations in the dark. This will train us in how we communicate during a response, how we manage people and teams and plan for additional resources.