28 March 2019

Understand the location very well before you purchase any oil spill response equipment
by Erick Monge, VP Latin America

I love sports, football, tennis, surfing, ping pong, etc. and I always related that to the fact that I was very conscious in relation to the environment. In my eyes, sporty people have a higher tendency to protect nature. After finishing my studies in Finance and International Business, I ended up (as you do) working as an Oil & Gas Engineer in the UK with my very strong Peruvian accent.

At the beginning it was really hard, going to a major End User or EPC contractor in London or Houston, sit with a clever instrumentation engineer, generally from India (here the accent helped me) and trying to explain why he should use my components and not any of my competitors for their Emergency Shut Down System in a major installation in Oman, Mexico, Brazil, Abu Dhabi, etc. Tough times but a good personal phrase came out from that: “I don’t does not mean I can’t”. I had some very good colleagues supporting me and I did learn something very important, you only earn credibility when you really understand your customer needs.

After several years doing that, I went for a trip to Brazil and I witnessed for the first time in my life an oil spill in Macae, a lovely place, and that day I decided to change my career to environmental protection. After 6 months I found a job on a very small island in the UK, selling equipment for oil spill protection. I thought if I can sell instrumentation to engineer GURUS, I can also sell booms, skimmers, tanks, etc. to the HSE people at any major organization and make a real contribution to the environment.

Strange enough, my first trip with the new company was to my sweet Peru, the country I love the most, I will not name the customer, it was a big international one, but they made a purchase based on the need of a European country instead of the need of the great Incas’ land. They purchased tanks, skimmers for light oil and shore sealing boom. I thought this is great, my first week and I get to go to Peru. Then, I learnt where the equipment was going, and I thought why on earth are they buying shore sealing booms??? However, I thought maybe I don’t know enough and there is a way that it will work, I did not have anytime to research as I had to jump on the plane, but I was thinking about it all the way from London-Madrid and Madrid-Lima. The equipment was going to a place that had decent waves, like the old picture where I am bodyboarding, very similar place. I was still learning about the products, the way to deploy them, how the products relate to the contingency plan, including the sensitivity map, so I was trying to work out how and where they will deploy the equipment the client purchased.

I jumped on a domestic flight and got to the area, they were all waiting for us. It seems the client wanted to use beach sealing booms in a place where there were 2m beach break waves and the poor boom was getting killed, my country people that I had not seen for the last 9 months told me straight up, do you have any brains? Why did you bring this here? It was not a very nice welcome at all, I explained that their HQ made the request based on a completely different application and we made the mistake of not challenging this request.

I started to research why there was not any development to properly seal a beach like the one we were at. It is always either you go behind the beach break to stop the spill or you just wait for the spill to hit the shore; however, there is a bit more to it. There are many different factors that need to be considered when determining if a boom is suitable for a particular application, whether it be the environmental conditions or the available equipment and personnel to deploy, operate and maintain it.  Booms work the best in calm conditions and the performance deteriorates as waves get higher, breaking waves and stronger currents.  A booms’ buoyancy to weight ratio is a good general indictor of a boom’s ability to follow the waves.  All booms have operational limits and will fail if these limits are exceeded.

The tidal seal boom I mentioned above is a specialty boom that is used to seal the very critical area between the shore and the water.  A gap here and oil can easily escape under the boom.  The bottom chambers are filled with water and the upper chamber is filled with air.  When the tide is out, the water chambers seal against the beach/water interface.  As the tide rises, the boom lifts off the beach/water interface and performs as a normal boom.

Of course, safety of the responders is the primary consideration in any spill response operation and there may be conditions that present unsafe conditions that preclude active response activities.  It is the mark of an experienced on-scene commander or supervisor to recognize when conditions are unsafe to put responders at risk, while being under the pressure to “do something” to mitigate the spill.  Sometimes a “monitor and wait” strategy is the most prudent course of action.

Breaking waves create difficult conditions to both deploy and maintain boom configurations in.   The main cause of waves is the wind; wind speed, fetch (distance the wind blows over) and duration (length of time the wind blows) all factors affecting wave height.  As a wave approaches the shore, the bottom of the wave begins to drag on the bottom and slow, causing the upper part of the wave to increase in speed and begin to lean or tilt forward.  As the water depth decreases, the drag on the wave bottom increases and the wave top finally tilts enough to curl and form the classic breaker.  The area between the shoreline and first line of breakers is generally referred to as the surf zone.  As waves come ashore and lose their energy, they have to go back towards the ocean.  There is a lot of energy in the surf zone.  The tidal seal boom has poor wave following characteristics due to its low buoyancy to weight ratio and might not be the best suited for exposed areas. In such conditions it might be difficult to operate vessels or deploy and maintain a boom in, however, high energy areas and beaches generally have very good self-cleaning potentials.

There are several guides and standards that provide guidance for selecting the proper boom for a particular application. The ASTM F20 committee (Hazardous Substances and Oil Spill Response) promulgates and maintains standards related to oil spill response.  ASTM Standard F2683 – Standard Guide for Selection of Booms for Oil Spill Response, covers the selection of boom criteria for containment and recovery of marine oil spills (Table 1 in particular).  The ASTM Standard F1523 – Standard Guide for Selection of Booms in Accordance With Water Body Classifications further addresses the selection of boom as does ASTM Standard F625 – Standard Practice for Classifying Water Bodies for Spill Control Systems, ASTM Standard F2084 – Standard Guide for Collecting Containment Boom Performance Data in Controlled Environments and ASTM Standard F 2682 – Standard Guide for Determining the Buoyancy to Weight Ratio of Oil Spill Containment Boom are also excellent references to consult.

The incident that I described above happened around 11 years ago and I cannot forget the bad taste I had for not bringing the correct equipment to site. Now, I have worked for the past 6 years at Lamor Corporation looking after sales in Latin America. At Lamor, we know there is no substitute for experience; the source of knowledge is experience. The experts of our company, with global experience in all types of conditions and spill scenarios, will be able to recommend equipment suitable for the anticipated operating environment. We have earned the credibility we need from our customers; therefore, we now have service operations in pretty much all the countries in the region and have the platform to respond to an oil spill in all type of conditions, from the Arctic to the Amazon.

-Erick Monge, VP Latin America

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