It'll be hard to clean up if there's an oil spill in Arctic waters: Concerns voiced about ability to handle spills in ice (Dan Joling, Anchorage Daily News, April 12). The photo above shows a 2000 oil spill response exercise in Alaska's Beaufort Sea.
The last time federal and state regulators evaluated an oil spill drill in broken ice off Alaska's coast, the results were not promising.
When ice covered more than 30 percent of the water, the mechanical recovery system became overwhelmed and collapsed, evaluators said of tests conducted by BP Exploration in the Beaufort Sea in 2000.
In less than 30 percent ice, skimmers lifted oil from the water -- as long as tug boats ran interference, pushing away all but 10 percent of the ice....
Leslie Pearson, the state of Alaska's director of spill prevention and response, describes a cleanup in ice as "complex."
The remote location of the Chukchi Sea, a body of water shared with Russia, the lack of nearby infrastructure, the strong currents and a host of unknowns would add to the complexity....
Getting to a spill quickly is key, she said. After 72 hours, as oil emulsifies, burning and dispersants fall out of the cleanup equation, she said.
Some skimming devices have shown themselves to be effective in broken ice, she said. But as they operate in freezing conditions, ice buildup can reduce their ability to recover oil. Navigating through ice floes would be a challenge. If a spill is beneath ice, responders would have to find it and track it.
Procedures have been changed in response to the 2000 exercise:
Ron Morris, general manager of Alaska Clean Seas, an industry cooperative that would respond to a Beaufort spill, said response techniques changed in response to the 2000 report.
Responders added ice management vessels and tactics that included barge, boat and crane combinations to remove pockets of oil trapped by ice floes....
Photo is from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation via AP and the Joling story.