The effects of climate change appear to be occurring in the Arctic but are also apparent in the Great Lakes. This includes the potential for a lengthening of the shipping season and lower water levels, both of which could increase the risk of an oil spill. As part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) with additional funding from the Coast Guard, aspects of response to oil spills in ice are being evaluated simultaneously in the Arctic and Great Lakes. While specific techniques are being developed by other organizations for the Arctic, the emphasis for this project was to develop exercises that could integrate approaches and provide the Federal On-scene Coordinator (FOSC) with trained personnel and the tools needed to complete a response. Workshops were held in Anchorage, AK and Cleveland, OH that gathered subject matter experts and stakeholders to provide ideas for potential exercises that can be considered for planning in both areas.
An accidental spill could cause a major amount of environmental damage and the harsh weather and lack of logistical support would make it difficult to respond (CRRC 2009). A large amount of work has been done to evaluate and develop methods and equipment to respond to oil spills in the Arctic. The efforts are numerous and a non-comprehensive sample of efforts is provided here. There have been oil-in-ice workshops in 2000 and 2007 (Dickens 2004 and MMS 2007), multiple general reviews (WWF 2007, SINTEF 2010, BOEMRE 2010) and specific analysis (Nuka 2007, Solsberg 2008). There have been industry projects with the latest being reported in a special session of the 2010 AMOP Technical Seminar on Environmental Contamination and Response (AMOP 2010). There are multiple manuals that have been written (Owens, et. al. 1998, ACS 2010, STAR 2006). But there have been limited recent efforts to exercise the equipment and methods in an operational setting to determine specific deployment schemes in the ice due to the lack of availability of ice-strengthened ships or icebreakers. The US Coast Guard (USCG) Research and Development Center (RDC) started a project in 2009 to determine if exercises could be used to evaluate technologies in parallel with other developmental efforts to prepare a comprehensive approach to response.
The burning of oil on the water as a response tool, called in-situ burning (ISB), has been developed over the past 20 years. The technology development level for methods in the Arctic is similar to that of in-situ burning in the late 1990s. There had been individual developments of equipment and techniques, deployments and tests but limited experience in implementing an entire operation. From 1998 to 2002, the USCG R&D Center developed a partnership with industry, state and federal organizations to conduct a series of exercises off Galveston, Texas, to test what equipment; methods, logistics and time were needed to implement a successful burn. Each exercise became progressively complicated until the final one which had 20 vessels, a helicopter with a helo-torch, two spotter aircraft and a full Incident Command System (ICS). The result was the development of an operations manual (Buist, et.al 2003), sample incident action plans (IAP), and a teaching video. This approach using a series of multiple equipment deployments is recommended for developing techniques for responding to oil-in-ice; to develop more advanced operation manuals using techniques that are actually tried in the ice during exercises.