Oil Spill Response Plans and Procedures

Oil Spill Response Plans and Procedures

Many industries are required to have oil spillage prevention procedures in place as well as oil spill contingency plans. While prevention is everyone’s goal–certainly no one benefits from oil spills–the natural disasters, equipment failure, and human error make it likely that one can happen.

Oil spill control is no doubt on the minds of everyone who works on off-shore rigs, pipelines, refineries, and small businesses like service stations and fleet operations. As a manufacturer of natural products used to contain and clean liquid spills, we want to share our knowledge about spill response planning with businesses that produce, transport, store, and use oil and subsidiary products.

Oil Spill Response Planning – A Future for Everyone

We want to make it clear that everyone in the industry must acknowledge their roles in oil spillage prevention and oil spill contingency planning at their worksites. Planning is prevention. It sets safety goals that protect the business (including property), employees, others in the vicinity, and the local environment. Vendors who handle certain tasks should also be consulted and involved in response planning.

It’s important to check with your industry association for specific items to include in your spill response plan. However, we’ve noticed several common objectives across industries that deal with spill responses:

  • Ensuring the safety of personnel, responders, and the public
  • Managing a coordinated response effort
  • Initiating search and rescue operations
  • Controlling the source of the incident
  • Protecting environmentally-sensitive areas 
  • Treating, containing, and recovering spilled material
  • Keeping the public and stakeholders informed of response activities

It’s important to remember that, as the U.S. Coast Guard’s own Incident Management Handbook notes, “all incidents start as local.” 

Emergency and other personnel are trained and assigned to certain duties that support these goals.

  • Emergency response team managers who liaison with local emergency officials
  • Onsite first responders who may also coordinate search and rescue efforts, often with local, regional, state, or federal personnel depending on the jurisdiction of the spill site (e.g., international waters; interstate, highways; state or county roads; locations served by emergency city or county resources)
  • Responders trained in containing and cleaning spills
  • Communications team that reports to senior management, the public, and other stakeholders

Oil Spill Response Planning - A Future for Everyone

Standard Oil Spill Response Procedures (OSRP)

Oil spill response procedures, or OSRP, differ depending or where they occur, particularly offshore versus onshore. But most plans will include these Initial Response and Assessment steps outlined by the Coast Guard:

  1. Gain situational awareness
  2. Assume command
  3. Determine initial objectives and take action
  4. Organize and direct response assets and members as they arrive and track resources
  5. Identify appropriate communication methods and Operations and Command frequencies if using radio communications
  6. Evaluate current response actions and adjust as needed
  7. Evaluate potential incident complexity
  8. Request additional resources if needed
  9. Provide status reports to a designated party 

Obviously, some of these steps will take precedence over others. An oil or gas explosion obviously will need additional resources (#8) sooner, probably as Step 2 or 3 depending on the severity of the situation.

However, the vast majority of spills are localized and small and are handled onsite. Depending on the jurisdiction, local first responders are notified for backup and reporting purposes. Again, we strongly urge all planners to consult with their trade associations and local agencies that oversee environmental incidents.

Practice Your Spill Response Plan and Audit It

It’s one thing to get a plan in place. You have to practice it to make sure it works and that everyone involved — including vendors — understands their roles.

If your work takes you offshore, check out Ohmsett, the National Oil Spill Response Research Test Facility in Leonardo, New Jersey where your team can practice oil spill response training and testing in a realistic marine environment. It’s the largest outdoor saltwater wave/tow tank facility in North America.

Oil Spillage Prevention and Preparedness

Oil spill prevention and preparedness are not the same as response plans, but logically, they are all related and should complement one another. In fact, prevention staff is often included with response planning and preparedness since they are intimately familiar with the job site, including the machinery, technology, tools, and personnel there.

Oil Spillage Prevention

Oil spill prevention requires a separate set of guidance but at a minimum, include:

  • Adhering to the EPA’s Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Plans (SPCC) that outline equipment operator prevention procedures
  • Maintaining safe equipment operation as instructed by equipment manufacturers and testing operators
  • Inspecting equipment
  • Following Best Practices shared across the industry through associations and professional groups. 

Oil Spill Preparedness

Preparedness steps ensure a worksite is ready to respond to an oil spill.

The OSRP lists equipment used in oil spill control, such as absorbent boom SOCs, skimmers, and chemical dispersants that break up oil slicks. (We manufacture and sell five- and 10-foot long boom SOCs that can be tied together.) SOCs work to prevent oil from reaching environmentally sensitive areas, divert oil to other areas, or contain it until skimmers arrive to remove the oil. SOCs can also be wrapped around leaking pipes.  

Large amounts of absorbents are used in oil spill control. These include booms, pillows, pads, and snares made from various kinds of organic and synthetic material. We include SpillFix organic granular absorbents in this category.

Prevention and preparedness steps include:

  • Inspecting equipment to ensure they are in good working condition and in sufficient amounts to handle a potentially large or disastrous spill. 
  • Conducting unscheduled equipment deployment exercises to test preparedness
  • Auditing training and exercises
  • Reviewing OSRPs to ensure all parties are prepared to respond to spills, including potentially disastrous ones, and are up to date to reflect changes in organizations.

Oil Spillage Prevention and Preparedness

Oil Spill Contingency Planning

Oil spill contingency plans respond to secondary but serious incidents that result from a spill, including recovery efforts in areas that have been harmed. Examples include:

  • Identifying the presence of toxic chemicals such as hydrogen sulfide gas used in drilling
  • Post-spill waste management and cleanup
  • Risk assessments for areas near the worksite
  • Opening temporary offsite offices if a spill site is deemed unsafe for employees

Like oil spill response plans, these plans identify and assign personnel to handle specific tasks. 

Area contingency plan assesses scenarios that are likely to happen during or after a spill. Very often, they include environmental assessments and appropriate recovery efforts. They describe areas near a worksite, including neighborhoods, schools, parks, rivers and streams, and so on in sub-area and geographic response plans.

Oil spill contingency plans respond to specific legislation and regulations that can be as detailed as to dictate specific steps (such as alerting other personnel, shutting off product flow and ignition sources) and when they should be performed (right away, within a specified timeframe). The Clean Water Act is an example of major legislation that describes what needs to be assessed and planned.

If you work at a site where oil spills can or do occur, take a look at our absorbent products. In addition to SOCs, we offer organic granular industrial absorbent made from coconut husks (coir) sold in pallets of 13- and 20-gallon bags and a 555-gallon SuperSack with forklift/crane handles. Best of all, SpillFix has zero impact on the surrounding environment. Contact us today to discuss your order!