SPetro Marine's Tim Cochran shoves boom into the water for the Skagway Public Safety boat to spread around the spill.

Imaginary spill forces slick answer

Mysterious ‘disgruntled employee’ to blame for fouling bay; clean-up successful

Story and Photos by Andrew Cremata

A 10,000 gallon oil spill on Wednesday April 15 in the Taiya Inlet sent local, state, and federal agencies scrambling to try and minimize potential hazards and damage. The spill occurred from the Petro Marine tank farm after a local man, who was apparently disgruntled about not being hired by the company, opened both the jet fuel and diesel fuel headers.
Multiple sources reported the spill to local authorities by 6 a.m. By then the spill had spread as far north as the Railroad Dock and west beyond the Ore Dock pier. After questioning by police, the alleged culprit admitted to the vandalism and was arrested.
Employees at Petro Marine notified the Skagway Fire Department, the Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and Southeast Alaska Petroleum Resource Organization (SEAPRO), all of which began mobilizing material and personnel to aid in cleanup.

This was the scenario laid out in a two-day exercise conducted by SEAPRO and Petro Marine. The exercise brought spill response personnel together from all over the state and Washington to participate in a real-world situation designed to prepare responders for an actual spill and work out any kinks that might be discovered along the way.

The Coast Guard requires an exercise in Southeast Alaska every three years. Petro Marine Services was solicited by the Coast Guard for this year’s exercise. It was the first such exercise conducted in Skagway since 1997.

The first day was devoted to “tabletop exercises” at the Elks Lodge. Swarms of officials treated the exercise as an actual event, and players in the “game” conducted meetings, made phone calls, assessed incoming information, and held faux press conferences.

Variables were thrown into the mix such as a failure in one of the containment booms and a rescued seagull that had fallen victim to the actions of the imaginary vandal.

A deployment exercise was conducted on the second day. A handful of local vessels and SEAPRO’s boat, the Neka Bay, laid out boom around the imaginary spill while onlookers watched from the Ore Dock.

Organized chaos at the Elks command center; a Sharpie diagram shows the spill’s reach.

The Neka Bay is a vessel designed specifically for oil cleanup and boasts two skimming arms that swivel away from the hull to direct water into the boat to filter away fuel.

Local Petro Marine Plant Manager Tim Cochran was arguably the busiest man in Skagway during the two-day exercise. Cochran explained he had been coordinating the event for a year, which required assembling personnel from all over the state and the Lower 48, and bringing all the details together so the scenario could play out naturally.

Cochran’s official title for the scenario was Responsible Party Initial Incident Commander. In a real-world situation Petro Marine would have been considered the responsible party, and Cochran would have much less time to coordinate responders.

During the first day of the event Cochran ran back and forth between one-on-one conversations with Coast Guard personnel and meetings with unit leaders and members of unified command.

On the second day Cochran was feeding boom to the boats simulating the containment of a spill. This was no easy task, as the boom is heavy and there is a lot of it.

Cochran was presented with an award from SEAPRO General Manager David Rowings, who commended him for his hard work and organization skills.

Cochran takes command; interim Fire Chief Wayne Greenstreet confers with SEAPRO and agency reps.

Cochran said the experience was not only good for Skagway in case there was a real spill, but the event also “was a good shot in the arm” for the economy before the cruise ships arrive.

He said no one was injured during the event, and it was good to get to know the people he would work with if there ever were a spill in the Taiya Inlet.

Also of note: The imaginary seagull was cleaned of oil and is currently recovering in a state animal shelter.