How do you prepare for an oil spill?

Found in: News

At the recent Spillcon 2016 conference industry, government and non-government organisations came together to consider what’s involved in planning for an oil spill. Under a theme of Global, Regional, Local, delegates took the opportunity to explore a variety of oil spill related issues including cause and prevention, preparedness, response management and environmental impacts.

A number of our oil and gas sector clients who engage us for our subscription service for oil spill scientific monitoring standby and response commonly ask us ‘how much preparedness is enough?’. Interestingly this topic was explored in detail at Spillcon 2016 by Michael O’Brien from the Spill Risk Team in the Environment Division of the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA).

A common approach in determining preparedness requirements is to undertake a risk assessment, plan the response and ensure that any impacts are kept as low as reasonably possible (ALARP). At a more granular level this requires a step-by-step exploration of what you would ‘need’ during an oil spill response, from which you then tailor a ‘capability’ in the form of personnel, resources and equipment. The required level of preparedness is then determined by an organisation’s ability to ensure that the required ‘capability’ is accessible and available at short notice and deployed in an organised and timely manner.

Drills, scenario testing and audits offer a means of testing the response capability and can lead to some interesting insights regarding the cost /benefit assessment of having redundancy embedded within your response preparedness and planning. The benefits and shortfalls of this were clearly identified by Jessica Miller of the Australian Marine Oil Spill Centre (AMOSC) in her summary of the outcomes associated with Exercise Westwind, a two phase exercise of the National Plan for Maritime Environmental Emergencies conducted across Canberra, Perth and Exmouth last year. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) offers a great and insightful summary evaluation report of the outcomes of the exercise.

One of the consistent and enduring themes of the many discussions and presentations at Spillcon was an understanding that emergency response can be a complex and varied undertaking. Some aspects you plan and prepare for can be easily overwhelmed by external factors during a real life scenario and a certain degree of adaptability and flexibility needs to be embedded within your approach to response. Nevertheless most delegates tended to agree that the best form of preparedness is one where the worst case consequences have been deeply considered, adequate planning has been granted towards ‘needs’ and ‘capabilities’, scenarios have been truly trialed and tested, and opportunities to build redundancy in your systems have been explored.

In a lower cost environment operators are also keen to see where common use approaches can assist in ensuring greater industry benefit to the practice of oil spill preparedness and response, but in a way where the cost of ensuring availability of an improved service is shared. This was definitely something which resonated with us in our approach to offering a broader industry subscription service for Oil Spill Scientific Monitoring Standby and Response, and it was pleasing to get such strong industry endorsement for the service during the Spillcon event.

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