Council and partners work to permit oil spill simulant for response training

Council project manager

Because evaluating the effectiveness of oil recovery efforts during trainings and drills can be difficult, the council has been working to find an appropriate oil simulant. A simulant would mimic oil on water and provide responders with a practice target and help to increase proficiency with response gear and tactics.

In March, the council partnered with Cordova’s Oil Spill Recovery Institute and the Spill Control Association of America to host a workshop to address this topic. The workshop was held at the Seattle campus of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, or NOAA.

Although the council is interested in improving training locally, the broader goal of the partnership and workshop was to address simulant use on a national level.

Twenty-seven people participated, and the workshop featured two panels that addressed the need for simulants, permitting and other regulatory requirements, and concerns related to their use. The panels were composed of representatives from spill response organizations, NOAA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Response Team, and the council, among others.

The workshop concluded with a final group discussion on the next steps for this effort and consensus was reached on a number of items including:

  1. There is a need for simulants. Some of the possible uses are: a training aid for practice with boom deployment, skimmer testing, recovery of spilled oil in arctic conditions, and tracking spilled oil.
  2. Different materials have unique characteristics useful for varying goals and conditions. For example, floating wood chips could work for boom practice, but might not be practical for certain skimmers.
  3. There is a difference between particle based simulants such as wood chips, pine needles or oranges, and liquid based simulants such as fish oil, or vegetable oil. This distinction could complicate the permitting process.
  4. Raising public awareness of simulants and their benefits to spill response preparedness would be positive. 

At the end of the workshop, the group had unanswered questions, such as:

  • Can an ongoing blanket permit for certain particle based simulants be achieved?
  • Do simulants need to be used in every exercise and deployment?
  • Would responders be liable if only a portion of the simulant were recovered?

While the idea seems simple, the issue is complex. Federal and state laws regarding permitting are unclear and full of potential obstacles.

The next stage of the project will be a white paper which will describe the topics and consensus items discussed at the workshop, and next steps. The council hopes that the paper can be presented at an upcoming oil spill response conference. Work continues with the goal of enhancing oil spill recovery efforts in Prince William Sound.

REPORT:  The full report is now available on our Oil Simulants project page.

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