Hawaii oil spill clean-up experts helping with Gulf Coast slick Oil slick drifts to Gulf shores
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i experts in dealing with oil spills are on the scene in the Gulf Coast trying to help stem the damage from a massive slick that has reached the Louisiana shore.
Honolulu is home to some of the nation's most unique oil spill equipment and is contributing resources as well as personnel to the effort.
A handful of Hawai'i residents with Marine Spill Response Corp. left the Islands about four days after a massive explosion April 20 that sank an oil rig 50 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Hawai'i experts will act as supervisors to untrained personnel who are providing manpower to their know-how, said Kim Beasley, general manager of Clean Islands Council, a nonprofit membership group formed in Hawai'i to respond to oil spills here and in Sāmoa.
The Marine Spill Response Corp. is also a nonprofit membership organization and works closely with CIC in Hawai'i to deal with spills in the Islands. The Hawai'i crew joins 400 other MSRC personnel from around the country and 75 of its boats to work on containing the oil off Louisiana.
"Oil spills are like wildfires," Beasley said. "You have inexperienced people and you have people who know what to do who can guide them."
Beasley said the Clean Islands Council is also prepared to send some of its unique equipment to the gulf, including custom hot-water production units to clean wildlife, an airborne dispersant delivery system that disperses oil and 300 bails of viscous sweep that soaks up oil.
The CIC and MSRC were organized decades ago to respond to oil spills and Beasley said they stand ready to do all they can to help the Gulf Coast.
"This is a very serious situation," he said.
$30M IN ASSETS
Hawai'i has one of only four looms that make the viscous absorbents and has one of only seven airborne dispersant systems in the world, he said.
Hawai'i's ability to respond to oil spills is impressive due in part to groups such as Clean Island Council and Marine Spill Response Corp., said Ed Teixeira, vice director of state Civil Defense.
The Coast Guard, state Department of Land and Natural Resources and Department of Transportation partner with the two nonprofits, creating a structure that works together well to protect the Islands, he said.
Clean Island Council and Marine Spill Response Corp. provide assets, a command center and training facility on Sand Island and personnel to deal with oil spills and hazardous material in waters and ports, Teixeira said.
What they do does not fall under Civil Defense, he said.
"When I joined Civil Defense years ago and got to see their capability , I was impressed then and I remain impressed today," Teixeira said.
CIC and MSRC provide response assets worth $30 million, including a 40,000-barrel barge and a 130-foot boat that's on standby with a crew 24 hours a day, Beasley said.
"We have one of a handful — less than five — command posts manned and ready to go for oil spill response," he said, adding that Hawai'i's ability to work with partners such as the Coast Guard has a lot to do with it having a "remarkable response center."
Oil spill response co-ops began forming about 35 years ago after a drilling rig off off Santa Barbara blew, coating beaches with oil for miles and killing dolphins , seals and thousands of birds.
In Hawai'i the partnerships, relationships, joint practice and planning make for a well-rehearsed team, said Coast Guard Lt. Com. Joe Herrador.
Equipment is strategically placed around the Islands for personnel to use in an emergency, Herrador said.
Other partners include the state Department of Defense, Navy, National Oceanic Atmospheric Association, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and state Department of Health, he said.
"I think we've done a really good job over the years here in Hawai'i to leverage that resource and come together and engage anything that comes our way."
Correction: The state Department of Health is the lead agency for responding to oil and chemical spills. A previous version of this story did not make that clear.