Well Blowout Response Exercise Held in Chukchi Sea
Officials from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) participated on Thursday in an all-day table top exercise designed to simulate the response to a well blowout in the Chukchi Sea. The exercise, planned over the past several months, included representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the State of Alaska and the North Slope Borough, as well as officials from Shell.
BSEE will conduct a series of planned and unannounced exercises and inspections throughout the year to test industry’s ability to meet the conditions of their oil spill response plans and effectively respond to a potential spill in the Arctic, in the event that exploratory drilling activities are approved. The bureau will also continue to participate in joint exercises, such as yesterday’s event, to evaluate and improve communication and coordination among federal and state partners and the company.
“This exercise allowed us to do a large-scale test of how the federal government and industry would carry out many of the key components of a response. It also tested the ability to get crucial data in real-time to officials in Washington, D.C.,” said BSEE Director Jim Watson. “While this exercise gives us confidence in the preparedness levels of our federal, state, and local partners, and Shell, it is only one piece of the spill response puzzle. We will be repeatedly testing Shell’s equipment and their ability to respond, including through field deployments and unannounced drills. We will hold Shell accountable to its plans, and ensure that all personnel and equipment are positioned and ready before any proposed drilling activities could proceed.”
The table top scenario began on day two of a simulated response to a subsea blowout with a flow rate of 25,000 bopd. Exercise participants completed an Incident Action Plan outlining the details of the release, coordinated response efforts among participating agencies, developed response objectives, and identified response assets. The Alaska Regional Response Team worked with participants on the approval and use of dispersants and in situ burning during the simulated response. The Department of the Interior’s Emergency Operations Center was used to notify key personnel in Washington, D.C., of the progress of the exercise, and provided real-time data feeds from Anchorage.
Shell has requested approval to conduct exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean this summer. Earlier this year, BSEE approved Shell’s oil spill response plans for both the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, but Shell must still seek and obtain approval from BSEE for well-specific drilling permits prior to commencing operations, and in-water testing and deployment of the capping stack and containment system must occur prior to the approval of drilling permits.
In addition, on-water exercises and drills will be conducted and on-site inspections of oil spill response equipment will be required throughout the proposed drilling operation. BSEE will use its authority to conduct a variety of equipment inspections and deployment exercises, some of which may be unannounced, to validate the tactics, logistics, resource availability, and personnel proficiency identified and relied on in the approved oil spill response plans.
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