Saturday, February 05, 2011

Oil Spill Response Training

Ocean Inquiries, the community education course I signed up for, coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Arco Anchorage spill in Port Angeles harbor. So our first two class meetings were about spills, and we were also encouraged to attend a program at the Feiro Marine Life Center discussing that spill, lessons learned, subsequent spills, effect on birds,

etc, etc, and so forth.

A lot of the attendees at the Feiro program had worked on spill response for the Arco Anchorage spill. Photos from back then showed a good many of the people in the room when they were 25 years younger. We were all invited to sign up for an upcoming HAZWOPER training (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response). You have to have a HAZWOPER certificate to be allowed to help out at spills. (Sorry, that ridiculous word is what everyone calls it; it's what the certificate says; nobody ever explains what it is an acronym for.) Oh no way, sez I, I do not want to know about this. But I registered for the training.

Thus I found myself on Saturday, January 29, in Sequim with JL, my COASST mentor, spending 8 hours in an evil hard chair; and earned an official certificate of training for '8 Hour HAZWOPER As described in 29 CFR 1910.120 (q)' by staying in that evil chair taking notes and being bored for an entire day; certificate signed by the contract cleanup specialist trainer dude from Marine Spill Response Corporation, and the Coast Guard. If I can manage not to mislay my certificate, I can show up to volunteer at an oilspill anywhere in this country, and certainly if one happens to occur in our area. Which it will eventually, but one hopes not during the lifetime of this certificate, which is 18 months then I have to attend the training again. The 8-hr certificate lets you be a support worker in the process but not actually handle oiled wildlife. For that, you need a 24hr training certificate AND special trainings for birds or mammals.

I thought about my old friend David Chadwick's satirical nuclear-freeze-era rock band, the World Suicide Club, and its motto: "It's going to happen." So it is. But I don't want to know. And I'm old and fat and can't be safely hopping around rocky beaches that are 3 miles from a parking lot...

The above is as I wrote but didn't post it on Wednesday last week. On Thursday, February 3rd, a fishing boat sank in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (1)(2). I'm sure that twice in the past month at these various programs I have seen maps that assured me that the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary is inside a voluntary no-go zone for shipping, an ATBA Area To Be Avoided. That didn't work, did it?

Spill Response training notwithstanding, unless oil or oiled wildlife on the shore are actually reported, there will not be organized response from the official response machinery; no activity and no one to wave my certificate at. But I'm already involved as a beachwatcher with a regular assignment. Email from COASST:

"Northern Washington COASSTers -

"We want to alert you to a "breaking news" situation over the weekend. An 80-foot vessel sank off Cape Alava on Thursday evening with 3,800 gallons of fuel aboard. As of Saturday, there was a continued release of diesel from the vessel, and a 3-5 mile long sheen was sighted 15+ nautical miles offshore and moving toward the NW, away from islands and the coast of Washington and British Columbia.

"Weather today (Sunday) could bring the fuel toward the coast. The US Coast Guard plans daily overflights to assess the sheen (movement, size).

"Based on previous spills, oiled birds can be found 60+ miles away from the spill site (several days later), so we are alerting everyone surveying NORTH OF POINT GRENVILLE TO NEAH BAY, WA (+ a few farther north and south).

"What you should do:
a) consider doing a survey this week or weekend (Feb 7-13), follow up with (c)
b) if you live on/near the beach, consider doing daily checks (not surveys) to assess oil, follow up with (c)
c) relay ANY information on the presence of oil (yes/no) and oiled birds (yes/no) to Janet/COASST - including from any surveys you completed this weekend (Feb 5-6); bring a cell phone with you and don't hesitate to call if you find oil or live, oiled birds.

"We promise to update you as soon as we hear receive more information. If the situation gets worse, we will change the oil spill response protocol accordingly..."


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