Oil spills are not only disasters created by large gas station companies such as Exxon or BP. These spills also occur from everyday cars, trains and recreational boats.
QualiTech Environmental, a Chaska based company, builds products and works to make sure that even the smallest of spills are contained and taken out of environments around the world. To show off its products and its crew’s oil spill response skills, the company held a public demonstration in Carver on Wednesday, Aug. 31.
“We’ve been in business since 1967 and we’ve been in the spill business since the 80s,” QualiTech Environmental Operations Manager Josh Clifford said. “This whole team was on the spill in Cushing, Oklahoma, about a million gallons, last month. We’ve been in Illinois on a spill back in June. We’ve been on the biggest ship salvage in the U.S. that finished up a few months ago. We don’t typically do gas station spills; we do a couple gallons if it goes into a complex setup.”
According to Cliford, the crew has “been to all the biggest oil spills you’ve seen on the news,” such as Exxon Valdez, BP, Athos and more. In order to keep their oil spill response skills sharp, regular training and demonstrations are conducted.
“This is the best way to get to know the faces of the people. When you show up in the middle of the night on Thanksgiving to an incident, which is typically the way it goes, it can be mass chaos,” Clifford said. “To do it in a calm setting, when you don’t have oil spilling and something up in flames, you can show up and review how to do it.”
In partnership with Marine Spill Response Corporation (MSRC) and Union Pacific, the training/demonstration challenged the workers to contain a theoretical train derailment that caused a small oil spill. The crew used a boom, a closed cell foam log, to make a V shape for the product to collect in.
“This was just a simple diversion,” said Nathan Nowakowski, MSRC’s interior coordinator to the West Great Lakes. “You would divert the product to the corner and then you’d run hoses and pumps to a vacuum truck that would suck in the product and then you would offload it into a big frac tank.”
Boom configurations can vary based on environment. If the current is too fast and the incorrect configuration with the boom is made, the product can seep under and come out the other side. There are many different types of boom systems made out of slightly different materials.
“We like to keep as many tools in our toolbox to show up, assess the situation and then decide what piece of equipment is going to be best,” Clifford said. “But this is kind of a basic tool in the toolbox.”
Prior to the training, the Minnesota River area in Carver had been scoped out and Google Maps was utilized to plan.
“You can put a plan on paper, and then when you come out and look at it, it won’t actually work. That happened today,” Nowakowski said.
Despite best efforts to be prepared, the water level of the Minnesota River was deceiving.
“We were originally going to deploy further downstream, but it was so shallow it was hard to get the boats to move around,” Clifford said. “It’s just navigating it slow, paying attention to the depths. It’s as shallow as a foot-and-a-half.”
The spot they landed on for the exercise is a little deeper and calmer, but they were still able to achieve the same objective. As a sign of success for this boom demonstration, there was river scum that began to pool up in the corner.
According to Nowakowski, if this had been a Government Initiated Unannounced Exercise, where workers have a certain amount of time to meet certain parameters, the training would have been timed. This untimed standard exercise and demonstration was not timed and took the crew about 2 hours and 30 minutes to complete.
“Nobody’s the best at this. It’s always advancing, so it’s attempting to achieve the unachieveable,” Clifford said. “We’ll keep developing tactics and finding new ways to do things. We’ll talk about today and see what comes out of the takeaways and implement them on the next one.”
Before packing up the booms, stakes and ropes, part of the crew went out and brought back Culver’s for the lunch break.
“You get addicted to deploying to an incident because it’s always new, it’s always exciting,” Clifford said. “You don’t know the conditions, you don’t know the community that you’ll be in, so you make the most of it. It kind of becomes a family. You show up incident-to-incident and you see the same faces and you spend holidays away. So you might as well like what you do and like the people you have to deal with.”