Managing oil to cut pollution risks

Antarctic operations, both national and private, still rely on fossil fuels for power and heating. Wherever these are transported or stored there is a risk of spillage: oil spills are the most common environmental emergency incident reported by national Antarctic operators. These can be sudden, highly visible, regionally disastrous and very expensive, or small and undetected, which over time may turn out equally devastating.

Antarctic operators must ensure their fuel oil storage facilities minimise the risk of spillage and develop contingency plans for each operation which provide for immediate and decisive responses to oil spills. The AAD Operations Branch is extensively revising its oil spill response contingency plans. Site inspections in the past two summer seasons produced detailed spill risk assessments at each station. Enhanced response strategies specifying resources needed to address these risks will be the core of standardised oil spill response contingency plans. The new plans will meet international standards while providing local site information for on-site response teams.

A tiered response approach guides station leaders and response teams through defined spill levels which can be raised to higher levels should the need arise. Response equipment is housed in prominent locations across the stations to cater for both marine- and land-based spills. Brief decision flow-charts give site-specific directions for the station leader on notification, containment, recovery and disposal options. Specific equipment configurations and operational instructions are provided in a corresponding set of colour-coded pocket instruction cards attached to the plans and provided inside response equipment containers.

Efficient spill response operations must be planned and practised regularly. Station personnel are given emergency response training in combating spills before leaving for Antarctica and on arrival. This reinforces the importance of protecting the Antarctic environment in all operations.

Camille Boxall, Project Officer, Oil Spill Response Project, AAD