Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

Oil Spill Response Equipment


September 1, 2017

The 48-foot M/V Duke J operated by the California-based Chevron EL Segundo Refinery has a hydraulic boom reel to deploy and retrieve 1,200 feet of offshore containment boom. Photo courtesy of Chevron El Segundo Refinery.

Preparing for marine oil spill emergencies along BC's coastline has had more exposure in recent months due to anticipated projects such as the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline and the recent federal government-defeated Enbridge Inc. Northern Gateway pipeline initiative.

Yet, experienced people and rugged equipment have been standing by for decades, ready to do the complicated work of responding to oil spills in marine shipping lanes. One such BC organization is the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC), a Transport Canada-certified organization that is industry funded, and follows the standards of the Canada Shipping Act.

The WCMRC began as an industry co-op named Burrard Clean in 1976, which responded to oil spills in Burrard Inlet in Vancouver. Later it became Canada's first certified response organization under the amended Canada Shipping Act in 1995, following lessons learned from the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.

The Canada Shipping Act requires any vessel over 400 gross tons calling on a Canadian port, to have a membership with the WCMRC. Additionally, any vessel over 150 gross tons calling on a Canadian port that is used to transport oil, must also be a member. The annual membership fees provide operating costs for WCMRC. Currently the organization has approximately 2, 200 members.

The WCMRC has 43 vessels in its response fleet, with bases located in Burnaby (headquarters), Duncan on Vancouver Island, as well as Prince Rupert. An aggressive fleet and base expansion plan is in the works due to the federal-government-approved C$7.4 Bn Trans Mountain oil pipeline project, which will see oil transported from Edmonton by rail to the west coast to supply Asian markets via ship.

As a result, in order to provide a larger presence and faster response times, WCMRC is undertaking the building of an additional 43 vessels, adding 130 more responders, and will be expanding with six new bases; five on Vancouver Island in Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Ucluelet, Beecher Bay, Victoria, and Sidney, as well as a base on the Fraser River.

The WCMRC fleet is made up of skimmer vessels, boom boats, skimmer, tank and pontoon barges, and a variety of workboat, landing craft and smaller vessels that can perform various response functions. The skimmers are purpose-built, using a skimming system that automatically recovers the oil that has been collected in booms. The response barges transfer the oil from the skimmers for offloading, and larger barges can hold the oil for the entire operation. The workboats are used to offload people and equipment onto a beach for shoreline cleanup, for example, or transporting boom and skimming equipment.

The fleet newbuilding initiative will start with three, 78-foot coastal response vessels being designed by Vancouver, BC's Robert Allan Ltd. that will have the capacity to work in the open ocean and deliver boom to a spill casualty in very heavy weather. It's expected that the building of the three new coastal response vessels will take place in an overseas Shipyard. In addition, a 200-foot offshore support vessel will also be built, and eventually be moored at Victoria's Ogden Point. According to Michael Lowry, Manager Communications for WCMRC, the OSV offers a variety of multi-purpose functions as it can carry equipment to spill sites, act like a barge and recover the oil and work in heavy seas.

"We also have, in addition to vessels, equipment we keep in trailers, especially on Vancouver Island," he explains. "So if there was a spill in Port Alberni, we have a barge there, but also we would be trailering equipment over. So we keep a lot of boom and skimmers in trailers so it's easy to transport to the spill site."

On the mechanical equipment front, different booms include those used for shoreline protection, general purpose booms deployed for sheltered water cleanup and larger open ocean booms that can handle the larger, heavier weather. Skimmers float on pontoons, with brushes that rotate through the oil. The oil sticks to the brushes, which is then skimmed off.

Regarding advances in on-vessel skimming equipment, Lowry says, "What we've seen since the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, is a massive improvement in terms of efficiency. And by efficiency, I mean how much oil they recover in relation to how much water."

A new breakthrough out of Norway called NOFI Current Buster Technology is making the booms more efficient in function, "and the big innovation there is just how fast we can tow these through the water and how much wave action they can handle," says. Lowry. "Typically, when you're doing skimming operation with normal boom, it's quite a slow operation. You're going .5, .6 knots, otherwise the oil will slip over or underneath the boom. With these systems, we can go about 10 times that speed."

Lowry says there are similarities between what the WCMRC is mandated to do and how similar organizations, like the Marine Spill Response Corporation in the US, functions. "They're different in terms of some of the regulations and some of the contracting arrangements, but there are certainly a lot of similarities."

The WCMRC is constantly in training, preparing for oil spill response through rigorous exercises that demonstrate efficiency to meet Transport Canada standards. As well, response organizations in Canada are required to have equipment to handle a 10,000-metric-ton spill. WCMRC has more than twice that much equipment in place, and as mentioned, is expanding to meet future industry needs.

"We've always grown to match the risk," says Lowry. "By risk, we mean increases in the volume of ships or the number of ships. The Trans Mountain expansion is going to add quite a few new tankers on the coast. We're going to be cutting down our response times quite a bit by adding all those new assets."

Washington-based, family-owned Munson Boats is a manufacturer of all-aluminum oil spill response vessels. Vessels are custom-built based on customer needs. The company provides multi-purpose vessels to a variety of customers worldwide. Clients include Saudi Aramco, Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, as well as the Marine Spill Response Corporation. In fact, the company has built more than 125 vessels for MSRC. "They are in Hawaii, the Gulf, the east coast, west coast, spread out all over our coastline," says Jon Wise, President.

For example, Munson built the 48-foot M/V Duke J for the California-based Chevron EL Segundo Refinery, the largest of its kind on the west coast. A hydraulic boom reel on the aft deck is used to deploy and retrieve 1,200 feet of offshore containment boom, and the hydraulic controls on the wheelhouse flybridge provide the boom operator an unobstructed view of the aft deck. "We get involved with designing the boat around all of the other skimming and booming equipment in the marketplace," adds Wise.

Munson specializes in high-speed landing craft, which are built with wide open, self-bailing decks, watertight compartmentalized hull construction and a drop-down bow. The company has also designed and built its own 130 barrel barge.

Major oil spills on the Washington/Oregon/California coasts have been few and far between as far as numbers go, according to Global Diving and Salvage's (Global) Pacific Northwest's Regional Manager, Aaron Harrington. The biggest oil spill the company's California division dealt with in recent years was the COSCO Busan containership incident after the giant vessel allided with the San Francisco Bay Bridge.

Harrington notes that in terms of oil spill response equipment, there have been incremental advances in technology over the years. "There have been some tech advances with recovery materials and equipment," he says, also noting the new current buster technology that allows recovery of oil at faster speeds without losing any product.

In addition, he also points out that along river edges where trains travel in the Pacific Northwest, there has been equipment staged at different sections to be ready should an oil spill occur. Boom vanes, in particular, provide the ability to hold their position and create little pockets to hold oil.

"They're using FLIR (thermal imaging/night vision) and some other technologies to be able to see oil at night, so you can do 24-hour operations, and the use of drones will become more prevalent," he says. "Typically, with oil spill response, there are over-flights by helicopters. You get people physically directing skimmers as to which direction to go on open water. The ability to put up drones or an Aerostat, which is like a hot air balloon, will allow them to maybe reduce some costs by not having a helicopter."

Turning to a broader look at oil response in the US, "prevention and preparedness regulations have worked well, as incident frequency has dropped to historic levels," says Global's president and CEO Devon Grennan, also the new president of the Spill Control Association of America.

Global personnel respond to an oil spill by deploying boom to contain the spill and sorbent materials to soak it up. Photo courtesy of Global Diving & Salvage, Inc.

"As an unforeseen consequence of this success, we have supplanted actual response experience for simulated response experience," Grennan noted. "And with these fewer opportunities, equipment manufacturers limit investment in new technology, and response service providers lack the opportunity to develop tradesmen in the response community. New technology developments and private industry commitments require a confident and robust market to support them, or government incentivization to promote them."

He says the industry is also faced with another challenge in the coming years which is not exclusive to the maritime trade. "We have more professionals exiting the industry than are coming in," Grennan explains. "I see the primary challenge that the spill response industry currently has is managing expectations and competing interests at a unique point in our nation's energy renaissance. Although our association has been a constant presence in the spill community since 1973, we learned long ago that if you don't evolve with the changing times, market conditions and regulatory changes, then you won't survive. We spend a lot of time with our members seeking how we can best adjust to changing conditions, so that we provide a greater value."


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