JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska --
Oil spills often result in immediate and long-term environmental damage. Members of the 611th Civil Engineer Squadron, U.S. Navy Supervisor of Salvage, U.S. Coast Guard, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency participated in an annual arctic response training exercise at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Feb. 13 to 17.
The training involved learning oil-spill response techniques under arctic conditions, through the application of hands-on equipment mobilization, deployment, and demobilization.
Robert Lopez, 611th Civil Engineer Squadron industrial equipment mechanic supervisor, said the exercise is critical in regards to incidents on JBER, because CES will act as first responders.
“Our goal is to be prepared and learn ways to recover oil or fuel from underneath the ice,” said Scott Partlow, one of the contractors partnered with SUPSALV.
Cold weather and ice can make oil-spill cleanup even more challenging.
“In these conditions you first have to be able to find the oil,” Partlow said. “There are many more things to consider in arctic conditions. You have to be able to figure out the current in which the water is moving underneath the ice and then of course there is also the layer of ice to deal with.”
One important step during the training included being able to determine the condition of the ice itself.
“We start by taking core samples from the ice in several areas to know how thick it is,” Partlow said. “The training then consists of simulating how to find the spill, coming up with tactics for temporary storage during recovery, and also learning to cut holes in the ice to drop [cleanup equipment] in.”
Participants learned how to use the rope mop skimmer, one of many techniques.
“You start by making of a trough within the ice about three to four inches deep,” Partlow said. “Then you drill four or five holes within the trough. The holes then allow the product to [float] up and be collected by the rope mop skimmer.”
Another technique practiced at Sixmile Lake included drilling holes into blocks of ice then removing them to create a trench of open water. Once the trench was cleared, oil accumulation equipment was deployed to clean the simulated spill.
Keeping the training area free from any possible dangers for the participants was also a very important task.
“Of course anytime we’re dealing with the ice, safety is a huge priority,” Partlow said.
Annual exercises practice the importance of crisis response and also offers a unique opportunity to bring joint agencies together to increase their interoperability and effectiveness.