Oil spill response is generally considered to be a maritime issue. Despite not necessarily receiving the most coverage, inland spills do happen and may actually occur more frequently than we perceive. In fact, one of the largest spills found in literature is the 1992 Fergana Valley spill in Uzbekistan (more than 80 million gallons). As such, the challenges faced in responding to an inland spill merit wider discussion.
Many inland oil fields are located in regions of extreme climate where conditions can be brutal. Responders, who are not acclimatised, will find working in these conditions tough when they are on-site. This, coupled with the harsh terrain, will increase the risks exposed to responders. As such, it is important to put in place guidelines and measures to ensure the health and safety of personnel.
In some situations, difficulty in communications between different teams may arise due to the large area of operations. This can be further exacerbated by the surroundings; for instance, teams may be located in different low-lying regions separated by highlands rendering communications via mobile phone - and sometimes, even satellite phones - ineffective. Measures must therefore be put in place to ensure that the security of all personnel is not compromised.
Inland oil fields are often in remote locations which makes response an extremely complicated logistical exercise. Conventional oil spill response equipment such as booms and skimmers may be inappropriate and strategies employing manual clean up will likely be required. Additionally, the inaccessibility presents another set of problems pertaining to waste management.
This paper discusses the key issues faced during an inland oil spill response. The paper will use a case example from the recent Yemen oil spill to discuss the pertinent operational issues.
Based on the statistics published by the Oil Spill Intelligence Report (1999), of the ten largest spill in history (by volume), three of the spills were inland spills. The largest inland spill ever reported was the Fergana Valley spill, Uzbekistan at 88 million gallons. This is also the third largest oil spill recorded in literature. Table 1 below lists out the largest spills by volume. Despite supporting facts and figures suggesting the likelihood of oil spill occurring both inland and offshore, oil spill response is generally considered more of a maritime issue.