Senior adviser Ole Kristian Bjerkemo at the Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA) highlights knowledge and collaboration as the two most important criteria for good oil spill response – nationally and internationally.
This was put to the test last week when the Arctic states checked how their cooperation worked in a Norway-based exercise where the Norwegian authorities notified an incident and requested help.
Bjerkemo coordinates international activity in the emergency preparedness area at the NCA, which wants Norway to be the “best in class” for oil spill response in the far north.
That calls in part for a high level of expertise on oil spill preparedness in icy waters under conditions of darkness and in areas characterised by great distances and lack of infrastructure.
“Knowledge and collaboration are important aspects if we’re going to have good oil spill preparedness – regardless of the country or coastline affected,” says Bjerkemo.
He has been involved for many years in the development of oil spill preparedness in the far north, including participation in the Arctic Council’s working group on emergency prevention preparedness response (EPPR).
Norway works with the other states in the Arctic Council to ensure that the agreement on preparedness against marine oil pollution in these waters is followed up.
“That ensures we’re as ready as possible to respond should a major oil spill occur in this region,” says Bjerkemo.
He adds that work in the Arctic Council is crucial for safeguarding the vulnerable areas of the far north, and a good collaboration between the states starts there.
“We’ve currently conducted an EPPR exercise where both notifying an incident and requesting support from the other Arctic states were in focus,” Bjerkemo reports.
He adds that the scenario for the exercise was a serious accident with a ship north of the port of Vardø, which lies close to the Norwegian frontier with Russia.
This incident led to a substantial oil spill which meant that Norway had to seek aid first from the Russians and then from other Arctic states.
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Experience acquired from the exercise will be discussed by the Arctic countries at a meeting in Montreal during June, Bjerkemo explains.
“The aims of the exercise include helping to implement the Arctic oil spill response agreement and identifying improvements,” he says. “After all, good planning is of little use if it doesn’t work in practice.”
The NCA staged a table top exercise in Horten south-east of Oslo in March, where participants included the armed forces, the Directorate of Norwegian Customs and the Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning (DSB).
Also involving Avinor, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, the police, and private companies holding logistics contracts with the armed forces, this activity focused on how Norway receives and handles international help in the event of an incident.
The EPPR test did not involve physical mobilisation of resources, but practical exercises are conducted both nationally and internationally throughout the year.
“We must assess personnel health and safety when planning these,” says Bjerkemo. “We’ve got to be sure that injuries or, in the worst case, fatalities aren’t suffered as a result of emergency response exercises.”
That represents a fundamental requirement for all types of exercises.
Realistic on Svalbard
Only Svalbard and the Oslo and Varanger Fjords in mainland Norway could experience an incident involving oil spill response in ice. Knowing that the equipment is tailored to such operations will also be crucial.
“Methods exist for combating acute pollution which haven’t been used in Norway and aren’t part of our toolbox today,” says Bjerkemo. “These could be relevant in those areas which have no human settlement. One example is burning.”
To enhance expertise with oil spill responses in Arctic waters, the NCA is planning an exercise on this subject during September with the governor of Svalbard and others.
“Exercises in the Arctic and in ice-covered waters involve different risks than on the open sea,” Bjerkemo observes. “The operation off Svalbard will test everything as realistically as possible.
“A reduction in the areas under ice also means that we’ll have fewer locations to choose between in order to test our response in such conditions.”
The biggest challenges, which the NCA will also face in the event of an incident in Svalbard, relate to logistics. When disposing of recovered oil, long transport distances and poor communication present difficulties not encountered elsewhere along the Norwegian coast.
“These issues are now being addressed in the Arctic Council, including the use of broadband radio as one possible solution,” says Bjerkemo.
In partnership with Canada, the NCA has led work on a guide for oil spill preparedness in the Arctic under the auspices of the Arctic Council.
Another important job being pursued through the council under the leadership of the USA is an operational guide for responses in ice and snow, where the NCA is also contributing knowledge and experience.
“Furthermore, the Barents exercise will take place jointly with Russia in 30 May-3 June,” reports Bjerkemo. “This is based on bilateral agreements with the Russians covering search and rescue as well as acute pollution in the Barents Sea.”
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