Building partnerships for Arctic oil spill prevention, response


Oil spills in the lower 48 are no walk in the park. The amount of resources, people and hours spent planning, coordinating, and responding to the incident are exponential, let alone the natural elements of Alaska that make dealing with a spill on the last frontier a treacherous endeavor.

Imagine a spill along the eastern coastline being hundreds of miles out into the freezing ocean, making it a logistical nightmare to reach, with severe low visibility due to fog, rain and snow, making traveling to it seemingly impossible at times-that is what the Coast Guard and other state and federal responders deal with all the time during oil spills in the Arctic.

Coast Guard personnel and various state and federal entities observe as Alaska Chadux Corporation personnel demonstrate proper equipment use and techniques for oil spill response in Bethel, Alaska, July 25, 2018. In support of Operation Arctic Guardian, Coast Guard personnel met with Alaska Chadux Corporation and various state and federal entities at an oil spill response seminar to discuss oil spill prevention and response in the Arctic. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Dean.

As part of Operation Arctic Guardian, personnel from the Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Alaska Chadux Corporation, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Global Diving and Salvage, the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Environmental Management, the Association of Village Council Presidents, the Orutsararmiut Traditional Native Council and various other state and federal entities attended a yearly seminar that was held at the Alaska Army National Guard Readiness Center in Bethel, Alaska, July 24-26, 2018.

Lt. Cmdr. Jereme Altendorf, a Coast Guard Sector Anchorage contingency planner, said the yearly seminar doubled as a hands-on equipment deployment event to make local governments and industry, as well as interested residents, aware of the federal and state governments’ response to oil and chemical spills in the area.

Coast Guard and Alaska Chadux Corporation personnel gave demonstrations that showcased a few tactics used for oil spill response.

“The most important thing to do when discovering a spill is to contain it, stop the source of the spill if you can do so safely, and report it to the National Response Center,” said Altendorf. “Generally, it takes anywhere from 12 to 36 hours for resources to arrive on scene, location-dependent, so it is important to provide useful training on quick-response tactics that local government and industry personnel can take to prevent a spill from getting to navigable water or further contaminating the environment.”

Altendorf said Alaska presents a unique string of logistical difficulties. Sometimes it can take days, or even weeks, to physically get responders on scene to assess the situation and the extent of the spill to develop a plan to respond. Because of this, it is essential for local village and community residents to have the knowledge and resources to be able to self-respond until the Coast Guard, ADEC, Chadux and Global personnel can be on scene.

“The average response time is 72 hours,” said Evan Kressly, an emergency management specialist for the Division of Homeland Security and emergency management for the State of Alaska. “In Alaska, it could take anywhere from five days to a week to get resources out.”

Coast Guard personnel and various state and federal entities observe as Alaska Chadux Corporation personnel speak about oil spill response and give a demonstration in Bethel, Alaska, July 25, 2018. In support of Operation Arctic Guardian, personnel with the Coast Guard, Global Diving and Salvage, Alaska Chadux, the Association of Village Council Presidents, and various other state and federal entities attended an oil spill response seminar discussing oil spill prevention and response measures in the Arctic. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Dean.

Kressly also said they don’t always get the call immediately after a spill, which adds to the amount of time it takes to respond.

Due to this remoteness, the ability of communities to respond and react quickly and make the initial call for help is critical.

Kressly said the hardest part when dealing with Alaskan oil spills is getting the knowledge of what the Alaska Division of Homeland Security’s mission is out to the villages, to let them know they have support, and to encourage them to call in the event of any type of emergency. Just getting that knowledge out there is pretty challenging, he said.

In efforts to increase knowledge on spill response tactics, the seminar started with a series of lectures presented by representatives from the Coast Guard, NOAA, ADEC, Chadux, Global Diving and Salvage, and various other state and federal entities on their individual roles during a spill.

From oiled wildlife protection and rehabilitation to dispersant use plans, to historic properties protection, alternative response technologies and booming tactics, even down to the science of oil spills and the incident command system structure that is used, the information presented kept the room locked in on the speakers as they rotated through their presentations-each discussing unique Alaskan issues that are often eminent in spill response.

From there, the participants moved from a classroom setting to an open area in the National Guard hangar. Chadux personnel gave a presentation with boom equipment and technologies that displayed their response capabilities for a spill.

Matt Melton, the general manager for Chadux, said that in Bethel, as well as in a lot of other rural communities and villages in Alaska, subsistence fishing and hunting are a way of life. Spills can be detrimental not only to the wildlife, but ultimately to the native Alaskan way of life.

“The waterways, the lakes, the wetlands-they aren’t just recreation like they are in southcentral; they are the livelihood of these people in their subsistence lifestyle,” said Melton. “Our goal, first and foremost, is to get out there and stop whatever contamination is happening, so we don’t ruin their way of life. It’s been a great opportunity for my guys to get up and present and meet some of the folks in these communities.”

Local residents who attended the seminar will be a huge connection for responders to have if something occurs in that region. The intercommunity networks are essential to have, said Melton.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Charles Long, a Sector Juneau marine science technician, coils a hose after Alaska Chadux Corporation personnel give an oil spill response demonstration in Bethel, Alaska, July 25, 2018. Both Chadux personnel and Coast Guard Pacific Strike Team members gave demonstrations on tactics used in oil spill responses in the Arctic. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Dean.

Whether it is a local resident responding or a government entity, every department assumes a differing role in the event of a response, and Jennifer Sonne, an ADEC environmental program specialist, said their primary role is to prepare for and try to prevent spills from happening through planning for hydrocarbon and chemical-related spills.

“The number one difficulty in responding to spills in the State of Alaska is how large the area is, how much coastline we have, and just the remoteness of locations and the diversity really of what could be spilled,” said Sonne. “There are tanks, facilities, pipelines, vessels, etc.”

A major element of response is in the planning. Sonne said large facilities will have contingency plans that have to get vetted through the state of Alaska so that they have measures in place to respond to spills and prevent them.

Altendorf said that the Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency, and ADEC work together with scientific partner agencies at the federal and state level to determine a cleanup standard or ‘action level’ based on several factors-the location of the spill, the environment or wildlife threatened, the product spilled and many other specific circumstances unique to each incident.

From the perspective of response, Kerry Walsh, a marine casualty project manager for Global Diving and Salvage, said Globals’ target is to go to a vessel in distress and remove the significant threat of pollution, which can be logistically challenging in Alaska.

“Chadux is there to pick it up out of the water, we are there to keep it from getting in the water, and if it needs to be taken out, we are there to do that,” said Walsh. “Chadux does the clean-up side of it. For the Shuyak spill, that was the team aspect of it. We all had our roles, and we dovetailed well with the Coast Guard.”

A key element of oil spill response is in having the right contacts when a spill happens, Walsh said.

“It’s important for people to know who to call in an emergency, and to keep those numbers handy,” said Walsh. “Knowing that you have the ability to call us is essential to being able to self-respond in the event of an emergency.”

Walsh said Alaska has a much more intimate feel when spills occur because of the smaller communities, and within the Coast Guard community as well.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Noah Weigand, a damage controlman with the Pacific Strike Team, Petty Officer 3rd Class Charles Long, a Sector Juneau marine science technician, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Craig Bennett, a Sector Anchorage marine science technician, give a demonstration on diking, damming and diversion tactics as part of the oil spill response seminar in Bethel, Alaska, July 25, 2018. The demonstration showcased a few of the methods that can be used in response to an oil spill. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Dean.

“We value the teamwork aspect that we have with the Coast Guard, not just in Alaska but everywhere,” said Walsh. “It’s such a big state, but the community is so small. We get to know people and what’s available a lot more intimately in Alaska. The Coast Guard in Alaska has that same thing. You start knowing who to go to, and I appreciate being a part of that team.”



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