When oil is spilled or hazardous materials are released, Guardians spring into action to mitigate any impacts on the maritime environment and coastal areas. One such oil spill occurred last Saturday evening about 33 miles off the coast of Louisiana when 63,000 gallons of oil was discharged from a Shell pipeline that cracked. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit (MSU) Morgan City and the Coast Guard Gulf Strike Team (GST) immediately went to work.
The Coast Guard Captain of the Port (COTP) from MSU Morgan City is ultimately responsible for cleanup operations and overseeing the incident since it occurred in the MSU’s area of responsibility. During an oil discharge of this size, the COTP deploys on-scene responders and incident command liaisons. Both of which are extremely important to the success of cleanup operations.
The Coast Guard National Strike Force has three teams with specialized equipment and incident management skills that rapidly deploy to oil discharges, hazardous substance releases, weapons of mass destruction events, and other emergencies. The GST is one of those special teams and was deployed to assist MSU Morgan City with this oil spill.
Three members from MSU Morgan City’s Incident Management Division (IMD) – MST2 Kaleena Schouweiler, MST3 Jason Hattaway, and MST3 Akaninyene Inyang – and five members of the GST – MST1 Steven Wilkes, ET1 Matthew Hampton, BM2 Curtis Ainsley, DC2 David Martin, and MST3 Eric Schenk – are conducting aerial observations, monitoring the oil sheen and evaluating its impact on the maritime environment. From a bird’s eye view, they also directed waterbourne recovery vessels to expedite the skimming of crude oil from the water.
With the Louisiana coastline full of environmentally sensitive habitats, estuaries, and bird rookeries, it was critical to keep the oil offshore and away from coastal areas. During this incident, the COTP authorized the use of dispersants to dissipate the oil, help to prevent it from reaching land and to mitigate the maritime impact. “This is the first time since 2004 that dispersants have been used to clean up an oil spill”, said LCDR Molly Wike, Assistant Response Chief at MSU Morgan City. “By using dispersants we have quickly minimized the impacts on the environment,” she said. The responsible party, Shell, is also utilizing Oil Spill Response Vessels (OSRV) and Fast Response Vessels (FRV) to skim the remaining oil off the water.
While the on-scene responders are collecting information and assessing the situation at the spill site, there are several private and public entities who receive the status updates, coordinate resources and provide oversight of the incident. MSU Morgan City, Shell and several federal, state and local agencies including National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Minerals Management Service, and Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office are working together in a unified command structure to manage the spill, mitigate environmental impacts and repair the cracked pipeline.
Typically, these agencies create a Unified Command Post (UCP) in a common physical location. However, for this response, these agencies are taking advantage of technology to create a virtual command post saving time, money and resources. Members are using e-mail and teleconference to maintain constant communication without deploying a large contingent of personnel to a physical UCP.
MST1 Wilkes, GST Response Supervisor, noted, “As a member of the Gulf Strike Team working on this oil spill sharing my experiences and knowledge has been very rewarding. The management level and effectiveness of this unified command has been exemplary.”
So, here is a shout-out to MSU Morgan City and the GST for their collaborative efforts cleaning up the oil and mitigating environmental impacts. For more information on this incident and the Coast Guard’s response, head over to Eighth Coast Guard District’s Public Information Site.
Do you know someone in the Coast Guard that has done something great for the service, the missions or the public? Please submit your nominations for Guardian of the Week at coastguard.dodlive.mil .