A large oil spill in Cook Inlet is the stuff of nightmares for Alaskans who call the area home. One of the organizations dedicated to cleaning up potential spills is CIRCAC, the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council. CIRCAC has a new tool in its clean-up toolbox that it’s calling a “game changer.”
Imagine a disc-shaped device – like a large donut – that’s coated in a soft, fuzzy material. That’s about as good a description as any for oil skimmers – devices that are attached to oil booms for the purpose of soaking up oil in the event of an offshore spill.
Linda Giguere is Public Outreach Director for CIRCAC. She says that oil skimmers have been around for a long time – since before the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill – and have figured prominently in oil spill cleanup all over the world. The problem is that in reality, they just aren’t that efficient.
Giguere says that the industry-standard equipoment, called "Transrecs," actually pick up as much as 80 percent water to only 20 percent oil, a ratio that some in the oil spill response community were never happy with.
Giguere says the new skimmers have been in development since 2007.
"It started with a lot of research ... to find out what manufacturers would be willing to invest in capital and take a risk to build the skimmer that would meet the standards we were looking at," said Giguere.
It was Eric Haugstad, Tesoro Alaska’s Director of Emergency Response, who took the lead on developing the project. Haugstad pored over catalogues of many different products, eventually finding a company from Gretna, Louisiana, called Crucial, Incorporated. It was Crucial who agreed to develop a new skimmer to meet Alaska’s standards.
With help from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and Cook Inlet Spill Response, Incorporated – or CISPRI – the new skimmers went through many rounds of testing. The new skimmers passed all of the tests with flying colors, says Giguere – even surpassing the highest expectations by collecting as much as 84 percent oil to 16 percent water.
"The response industry is really optimistic that this is going to be ... quite a game-changer," she said.
Giguere says the old-style skimmers will eventually be completely replaced by the new disc skimmers.
CISPRI has already bought two 56‐disc skimmers to pair with two larger response vessels, the Perseverance and Endeavor. They have also purchased ﬁve 13‐disc skimmers for near-shore cleanup to be used with two smaller vessels.
Giguere says CIRCAC is in the process of revising oil spill contingency plans and once that is completed, the new oil skimmers will be put into place.
KDLL reporter Shaylon Cochran assisted with this story.