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Toolbox of options for spill response

Friday, 1 May 2015 4:00 p.m.

“It’s like having a fully stocked toolbox at our fingertips.”

That’s the description from Bay of Plenty Regional Council Harbourmaster Peter Buell about the options available to Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s Oil Spill Response Team when the call comes in that they’ve got a spill to respond to.

The Regional Council has a statutory responsibility under the Maritime Transport Act to be able to respond to a Tier 2 marine oil spill – which means it has a response team which is trained and ready to respond 24 hours a day. However it’s not just the people that are key to responding – it’s the equipment they have available to use.

Mr Buell says each spill needs to be looked at individually as depending on where it is, what type of oil is involved and what the weather is doing at the time can completely change what needs to happen and what equipment will work best.

“For example, when the spill occurred on Monday there were high winds, which meant some booms were better for us to use than others. For this spill, sorbent booms have been the booms of choice – which rather than just containing where the oil goes actually collect it. Once full of oil the booms are removed from the water and replaced.”

In other locations, such as at Bridge Marina, where the oil had collected in some areas, response staff were able to use a sucker truck to pump the oil from the water. They then use absorbent pads to collect smaller pockets of oil.

“It suited the situation to use the truck – we were able to get it to the edge of the wharf where it has been an effective way of removing the oil,” said Mr Buell. “Of course it won’t remove everything, so we’ll also use absorbent pads to collect oil, as well as deploying booms to either contain or collect oil.

“And there are some places where we wouldn’t be able to use the truck because of where we can and can’t take the vehicle, so instead we have skimmers which we can place in the water and oil can be collected from the surface.”

“When the oily water can be captured such as at the haul out facility, we’ve been able to use steam cleaners as well,” Mr Buell said.

At Maungatapu, up to 70 staff a day have been working to remove oily debris from the shore and carry out manual clean-ups. It’s included staff from the Regional Council, Tauranga City Council, Ministry for Primary Industries fisheries officers, Envirowaste, trained oil responders from Waikato Regional Council and volunteers from local iwi/hapū and the community.

“There has been a lot of back-breaking manual work going on – it’s hard work but in some instances it’s the best thing for the environment we’re working in. At the top of our mind is that we don’t want to make things worse, so if we have to do it by hand, we will.”

“So far more than 12 tonnes of oily waste including oil covered vegetation, sand and debris have been collected from the Mangatapu and Motuopuhi Island and the Bridge Marina.

And with the recovery of the oil and oily waste, there comes the question of what happens to it.

“The waste is being disposed of by Envirowaste at the specialist facility at Hampton Downs in the Waikato,” said Mr Buell. 

2015 04 29 moving oiled waste by barge