Air station prepares for possible mishaps

7 Dec 2006 | Lance Cpl. Monique Smith

DRILL. DRILL. DRILL. A barge carrying jet fuel malfunctioned and collided with the Air Station fuel pier, spilling approximately 4,700 gallons of jet fuel into the water.  Emergency responders were able to contain all but approximately 1,000 gallons of the fuel that threatened nearby neighbors, wildlife and Beaufort’s fishing and seafood industry. Although the above scenario wasn’t reality, the risk is always there and Air Station personnel put their response skills to the test during Spill Management Training here Nov. 29 and 30.

The training is held here twice a year and is done to stay in compliance with the Oil Prevention Act of 1990, created after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. The Act requires a spill drill twice a year for any installations that conduct fuel operations on the water, according to Gary Dukes, the environmental compliance manager here.

Fightertown’s fuel is transferred from Jacksonville, Fla., by fuel barges that travel on the Intercoastal Waterway on a weekly basis. Once the barge arrives, the fuel is tested and pumped off the barge and into the Air Station’s fuel tanks,

“We have two groups,” said Charles Herron, an Air Station environmental protection specialist and the coordinator for the drill. “One is a water-response team and the other manages the response.”

On the first day of training, the response team was quick to respond, getting hands-on training out in the water. The response team deployed a boom, in the shape of a V, to section off the contaminated area. A skimmer boat was then staged behind the boom to help contain most of the fuel.  Per Department of Defense Directive 5030.41, all DoD components have compatible spill contingency plans to the United States Coast Guard.

The second day of training was a tabletop exercise, in which the spill management team looked at the logistics required for the recovery operation. The exercise was designed to test the spill management team’s organization, communication and decision-making skills.

“Today we are working on managing and sustaining a response for the upcoming days,” Herron said. “The size of the spill determines how long real-life efforts would last.”

“We are looking at all the logistics for oil recovery,” said Billy Drawdy, the Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs officer and incident commander for the exercise. “The real thing takes days so you have to look at all the logistics. We look at every possibility of containing the oil and protecting the environment.”

During the exercise, representatives from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Beaufort County Emergency Management Department were on hand to observe, role-play and provide critiques of the exercise.

“They provide some realism,” Herron said. “We get a better feel of what it would be like both before the spill and after.”

When the exercise was over, the spill management team was able to have hands-on experience on how to manage an oil spill in the event an actual incident occurs.

“It went pretty good,” Herron said. “We’re getting better every year. There is a lot of support and good participation. This was a team effort and it went well.”

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