Spill response firm bulks up on skimmers and boom

Oil industry leaders widely tout the development of emergency containment systems to trap crude at damaged subsea wells as a sign they are now better prepared to deal with offshore gushers than they were two years ago.

But Randall Luthi, head of the National Ocean Industries Association, said another big change is the investment in new vessels to skim oil in case of a spill and more booms to trap it.

“There is no doubt that this is an industry that’s better prepared to respond,” Luthi said.

Luthi cited an expanded fleet of planes, ships and boom at the Marine Spill Response Corp., a not-for-profit funded by the Marine Preservation Association that developed after the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground near Alaska.

Since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the MSRC has been adding equipment to its arsenal to respond to oil spills, with a planned expansion that ended earlier this year.

Here are some of the changes, by the numbers:

  • 17: The number of deep-water skimming vessels MSRC now has, up from seven before the 2010 Gulf spill.
  • 65,000: Total feet of ocean boom set aside for the Gulf of Mexico.
  • 2: The number of dedicated aircraft for spraying chemical dispersants or doing aerial surveillance that MSRC used to have. Now, the group has two C-130s and four King Air BE 90s.

The company also has invested in low-visibility spill detection systems with radar and infrared capability to help guide vessels into thick patches of oil, said MSRC spokeswoman Judith Roos.

MSRC’s fleet also includes new high-efficiency skimmers that are replacing aging equipment, Roos said,

Oil exploration and production companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico generally have to prove to regulators that they have sufficient equipment and resources to respond to a spill. By affiliating with MSRC, the companies can satisfy those mandates.

Recent companies that have joined the group include Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Apache Corp., Energy Resources Technology, Cobalt, LLOG, Nexen Inc., Noble Energy Inc., and Statoil. They join six E&P companies that were part of MSRC at the outset: BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, Murphy and Shell.

Other companies offer a suite of oil spill response services in the Gulf of Mexico, including Clean Gulf Associates.