Spill drills and current busters

The ships come and go, but the plan – equipment and people – are always here and prepared to respond.

— Elizabeth Wainwright, MFSA Director

Ships from around the world carry oil into Oregon. In the unlikely event of a spill, DEQ is helping ensure the state is prepared to respond. Recently, I had a chance to witness one such drill and discuss the procedures with DEQ Spill Contingency Planner, Scott Smith.

You may have seen news coverage with Smith talking about what their drills entails and about the Marine Fire and Safety Association.

The association “is like a type of pollution insurance plan that ships carrying oil into Oregon can buy into,” Scott told me. It maintains an oil spill contingency plan that is approved to respond to spills along the Lower Columbia River from the mouth near Astoria to the I-205 bridge, and on the Willamette River from Willamette Falls to where it meets the Columbia. The pan covers more than 1,500 vessels each year to meet the high standards established by Washington and Oregon.

Scott and I went to watch a deployment drill, which means that the responders practice using some of the equipment they would use in an oil spill response. These drills are conducted no less than twice a year in accordance with DEQ, Washington Department of Ecology and U.S. Coast Guard regulations. This time, they were using a newer technology called a Current Buster. It’s a type of boom that funnels the oil between two inflated arms and then separates it from the water so it can be pumped into a holding take and taken to a refinery.

While only a few pieces of equipment were being deployed, there were a lot of people. That is because Maritime Fire & Safety Association establishes partnerships with communities along the parts of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers that they cover, and members of those communities volunteer their boats and their own time in the event of a spill. On this day, many of these community members out of Cathlamet, Washington, were present to learn how to deploy the Current Buster.

Actual spills are quite rare due to prevention measures in the way that ships are built, but it makes me feel better knowing that we at DEQ are part of a partnership that upholds the standards for oil spill response on our rivers. As MFSA Director, Elizabeth Wainwright said, “The ships come and go, but the plan – equipment and people – are always here and prepared to respond.”

-Lauren Wirtis, Public Affairs Specialist

Published by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

DEQ’s mission is to be a leader in restoring, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Oregon’s air, land and water.

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