Craig Hynes Executive Risk Solutions General Manager along with a team of 3 ERS Emergency Responders (Scott Temple, Liam Walter and Brad Giddings) have made the journey to Texas to undertake a training in Marine Oil Spill response (Freshwater and Coastal) and LNG response this month at TEEX (Texas A&M Engineering) in Texas.
Executive Risk Solutions (ERS) ‘s commitment to professional development is paramount to our success. The training is recognized as world’s best practice and is a significant investment that ERS is prepared to make in its people and our future as a company.
The ERS crew of four arrived at the Texas Engineering Marine Safety, Teichman Road facility in time for our first day at 0800. It is very cold and a chilling wind at about 3 degrees greets us. The instructors state it is the worst conditions it has been for a long time. We are going to be in the water later this morning and we are not looking forward to the overboard drill...We are doing Modules 1 -3 today, Oil Spill in the coastal environment, shoreline types, protection, clean up, restoration – initial response considerations.
Sign in and inductions are first up. The course material and safety information were very well presented. We started with a general introduction from all present with a good mix of experience and novices. The class comprises 15 students coming from different backgrounds such as Oil & Gas Contractors and major companies; and environmental departments.
We did a pretest in the first hour to test our existing knowledge. With a lot of local terminology regarding the environmental agencies and penalties I have to admit it was a bit tough. However that is why we are here. ERS crews fared well though. An investigation will be held as to how Liam “Dougie” Walters got the top marks for the class.
The overview of the course stated that we will be doing a lot of hands on which is pretty good. First up in the field, we did a boat familiarization.Two style of boats were used for the course, utility boats with a V hull and a smaller “Jon” boat. But the boat looked tinny to me. Each student had turns at handling the craft for anchor drops, man overboard and shore landing.
Back in to the classroom we did some theory on environmental spills, and freshwater and coastal systems. This included local legislative frameworks and penalties. Not too different from Australia however it is clear after the Gulf of Mexico incident there are very tough penalties and requirements for notification of all spills in the USA.
After lunch we were back into practical work studying how to set up barrier booms, ditch and dam recovery and a familiarization of the Recovery Trailer. The latter included setting up a 4000 gallon circular dam. This is used for product collection.
During the final part of the day we did a practical set up of the barrier boom on the water with the towing plate set up from a Jon boat. It went well with the objective met. Everyone went back for a classroom debrief before dismissal however the Aussies were given a quick lesson on how to correctly say You All, which is said at a slow pace as Yaaawl. Off to the hotel for some revision and study and then off for a good “ol” Texas steak.
After a good night out watching the Steelers beat the Titans and a few beers at a local Sport Bar, we were up at first light. Some early morning exercise and breakfast and it was back to the TEEX facility on the Island.
Today’s program consolidates the first day’s training of the Boom set up. We then covered Environmental Sensitive Areas (ESA), a beach exercise, reconnaissance, deploy containment / protection boom and recovery systems. We then spent some time on Incident Control Systems (ICS) which are important to the success of Oil Spill operations as with any emergency.
Fortunately the US version of ICS is compatible with the Australasian Inter-service Incident Management System (AIIMS). The system used in the course is the nationally endorsed scheme of NIMS. Following the theory session covering the above subjects we were ready to start the full scale practice with an ESA protection barrier in the morning. In the afternoon we had a beach exercise.
The first full scale exercise scenario was for an environmental sensitive area (ESA) which entailed four teams being assigned different tasks. Over the week each team member will rotate tasks ranging from Incident Command, Boat Crew, Anchor Crew and Boom crew.
The first scenario task was to protect an ESA adjacent to the college with 500 feet of boom that was then connected at a T point anchor. Another boom was then put off at right angles in to the shore and tied off. This completed the protection of the ESA. The second phase of the scenario was then to place two diversion booms and a collection boom ahead of the spill. Peat Moss is used to simulate the spill as it floats on the water and will also accumulate in a similar reaction to actual an oil spill.
The deflection booms are anchored to a point on the shore and then towed and anchored off shore. The activity was completed successfully with a bit of effort from all team members. Brad and I performed the Anchor Point roles in this exercise securing each of the booms with a combination of star pickets and natural tie off points. Scott performed a role in the Operations Command group and Dougie worked between the boat and boom crew.
The exercise was completed in about 90 minutes which was a good outcome for a challenging scenario. The debrief was completed with the only corrective action suggested was to flake the booms in preparation for towing to make the laying easier.
The second exercise commenced in the afternoon with a scenario of a simulated oil spill travelling towards the coast. The objective was to set out a primary and secondary boom at 30 degrees to the coast and then set up three deflections booms further up the coast staggered at about 10 metre intervals.
I took on the role of the Operations Chief for this scenario with Brad acting as the Safety Officer and Scott and Dougie performing various crew roles through several rotations.
The scenario was interesting and involved using a larger diameter boom and longer lengths which complicated the task somewhat.
The crews set in the required booms with the first and second boom secured to the coast successfully. The subsequent deflection booms did not work as well as the anchors were not setting in successfully. Nevertheless we worked through some fixes and completed the task.
Make up was then ordered and all the gear was re-stowed. This finished the second day’s program which had proven to be very hands on and practical application of the skills. This is particularly useful in the learning outcomes of the course in that each student is getting several opportunities to apply the lessons learned.
Today’s program is conducted in two locations with both involving practical exercises off site. It is a good day weather wise with the first opportunity to wear just shirts instead of rugging up for the biting cold winds.
The first location is over the bridge towards Houston to a place called Hitchcock where we are setting up a deflection and collection boom across a bayou. We set off in a convoy of pickup trucks and struggled to keep up in our rented Kia. The pickup is a standard vehicle in Texas a fleet of Chevys, Fords, GMCs and Dodges populate the highways a 2 to 1 of normal sedans. With gas at less than a dollar a litre there are no worries with the big 6 litre engines.
When we arrive at our first location we are again set in teams for an exercise that simulates a fuel oil spill travelling down the Bayou. We have an hour until impact so we have to move fast to get the booms in place.
The task requires us to set in a deflection boom, a collection boom with a “J” curve that is located in to a boat ramp; and a final long boom across both banks as a defensive position for any breaches.
The task is split between four teams: boat crew; defensive boom; and the deflector and collector booms on two banks. The crews are getting pretty good at the set up now after a couple of days of practice. The booms are set in quickly and adjusted to suit the current and wind.
With the set up completed in 45 minutes we have achieved the objective on time and it is now time to test their integrity. A boat crew goes upstream and unloads a bag of peat moss that quickly flows downstream. It hits the deflector boom and heads towards the collection boom and as planned it starts to pool in the J curve in the entrance to the boat ramp. In practice it would now be able to be collected with vacuum pumps or skimmers and then transported away. Some of the product is buffeted over the collection boom when a boat arrives at the launch area, however as planned the product is then caught by the second defensive boom that spans both banks of the bayou.
With the exercise and debrief complete we now have to pack up. This is the hardest task as it is in most emergency operations. Hauling in the booms, folding and then packing away in the trailer. After 30 minutes we are on the road heading to La Marque for the second exercise. On the way we stop at Kelly’s Steak House for lunch. The locals all order big fried chicken plates, ribs or burgers. The Aussie’s not accustomed to the big lunches opt for salads. Which is pretty boring for the obligatory question everyone asks after lunch. “What you eat for lunch bubba?”
We arrive in La Marque at about 1230 and again assigned in to teams. The task this time requires us to set up a Chevron barrier system that will capture a spill and divert the product to both sides of the waterway. The effectiveness of this barrier is that it sends product to two pick up and collection points which is more effective if you have two recovery vehicles.
Dougy is assigned to the command team and steps up to the mark to ensure all the teams are working effectively. The setup is a little more technical with the initial task to set up two defensive barriers across the bayou. The chevron barrier is then constructed with 300 feet of booms that are all connected together on one bank with one end then taken to an anchor point on the opposite side. When ready the booms are dragged upstream together until fully extended. The anchor buoys (or bewys in the US) are then lowered in to the water to allow to set. Once this is achieved the booms are tied off on the bank to the star pickets.
The chevron barrier is now complete. We do a test and it works! Another good effort and we are told it was the quickest successful job they had seen. They probably say that to all the students however we will take the praise.
Debrief and pack up complete it is back to the TEEX campus for our final lesson of the day which involves a skimmer demonstration. This is the equipment used for the recovery of the product. We test four different models; the basic floating weir 360 degree skimmer, the float weir 90 degree skimmer, the closed suction head skimmer and the hydraulically balanced weir. All have their advantages and disadvantages depending on the situation they are deployed for. With this completed we are dismissed for the day.
Back to the TEEX Maritime Safety Training College for our penultimate day. We have had a good night shared with fellow student Maurice from a company called Kirby Corporation, a large barge operator and transporter of Bulk Liquid. He was a wealth of knowledge on Texan history and it was something he was obviously really proud of. He was also very interested in Australia and our culture, however I don’t know if Dougy was the right person to give him an impression of Australia.
We were in the classroom for a quick brief of today’s first scenario which was again off site in the Hitchcock area which is about a twenty minute drive down the I45. I must say the road numbering system works well, pretty complex instructions to a site can be followed by a series of numbers and landmarks like (hit the big ass RV Park and turn right).
We arrived further upstream on the bayou again today. It was a popular fishing spot so we had to wait to move on a couple of fisherman before we set up our equipment.
Scott was the nominated Operations Chief for the task of putting up a navigable boom. This meant setting up a series of deflector booms that enabled the spill to be trapped on the banks for collection however still enabled marine traffic to make its way up and down the waterway.
Click here to see the video of Scott giving his briefing to the teams on the set up and system that he needed to put in place to achieve his objective.
We get to work and have the equipment set up in record pace, a reflection on the 3 previous days practice. However in the boat and we had problems with bottoming out in a number of places. This meant we had numerous snags, a couple of propeller catches and anchor slippage. Nevertheless we worked hard to recover each problem and eventually got all booms and barriers in place. We achieved the objective with just minutes to spare however with the low water problems we were pleased with the outcome.
A quick debrief and make up and we were on our way back to Galveston for lunch before our second practical exercise in the afternoon. Dougy chose the 61st Diner for lunch on the way back, a traditional Texan diner with all the boys setting at the bar drinking bottomless bad coffee and eating some wholesome Texan food.
We also tried some grits which was nothing to write home about. However we were told later that we are supposed to smother it with butter and bacon and other delicacies before we eat them.
The second exercise of the day involved a bit of free thinking by the teams. Brad and I were in the command team this time. We were given a scenario by the TEEX instructors and then had to come up with a mission plan and objectives.
The team decided on a full perimeter defensive barrier around the two finger piers that would protect any run off from the simulated spill from a tanker on the shore. We used a separate team to put in a ditch trench and dam system to reduce the flow and put in several catch points using piping, boards and dams. The exercise required two V hull boats to haul the booms in place, given the long run of about 500 feet of barrier boom. Our objective was achieved in 50 minutes which was pretty impressive given the complexity of the task as well some pretty strong on shore winds.
After the obligatory debrief we were ready to make up for one of the final times of the course. It was then over to the main facility where we completely overhauled the TEEX Oil Spill trailer and cleaned all the equipment that we had used over the 4 days.
Tomorrow is a half day that includes a final test, critique and summary. The group has bonded well over the first four days and we are looking forward to getting together tonight as a group over a beer and steak. We should finish off the Texan versus Hossie (Aussie) banter tonight. We think we are ahead at the moment however we are outnumbered.
Final Day tomorrow before we head to College Station.
Day Five (Final Day at TEEX)
Final day at the TEEX Maritime and Safety Training Facility on Galveston Island Texas. We have had a pretty big night with most course participants going out for a meal at Jimmy’s harbour seafood grill restaurant. After a great seafood meal it was off to a bar to watch a game and have a few drinks. It was a great crew that we have shared the course with. We have a big night with a lot of reminiscing and sharing stories. The Aussies set the standard for beer drinking however we cannot keep up with the locals onTequila shots. Especially with Tokani who is from the Alaskan Oil fields.
The final day starts at 0800 with a quick brief on the final exercise. It entails setting up a boom on the harbour to collect the waste and then to move in with the skimmer for retrieval.
Many of the group are a little seedy after the previous night’s celebration. However we get to the boats and load on the 24 inch booms, the largest we had used for the week. Given the choppy conditions this was the best selection for the task.
To achieve the objective we set up two boats with the large barrier boom. This is initially fed out from the skimmer vessel. The two lead boats then connect on and work in unison to collect the product. One boat then disconnects and the other powers on until the product is released in to a pooled area at the base of the booms. The product is then scooped up by the skimmer vessel. We repeat the exercise several times so all crews get an opportunity to complete the task. The mission is completed successfully and we head back to the TEEX wharf for make-up of the equipment.
After a quick cleanup we are back in the classroom for the final activity, the end of course assessment. All goes well and the level of knowledge gained during the week is confirmed in the results of all students. We are given a break and then we have the course presentation of the accredited course certificates.
It has been a great week and the course critique is highly favourable from all students. We have come a long way in the week at the college. The course has given the ERS crew a thorough understanding of the Oil Spill competencies required to successfully control a range of coastal and freshwater scenarios. The high practical component of the course is a real benefit for all attendees and this will mean that we can easily transfer these skills back to our company’s role in the Emergency Management area of operations. We highly recommend this course to those people interested in this field.
We are now travelling to College Station, the home base of TEEX for an LNG course that starts on Monday. We are looking forward to this next course based on our experiences at the Galveston Island facility.
Stay tuned for the next chapter in a couple of days.
Day One at the college station
The ERS crew of four arrived at the Texas Engineering, Emergency Services Training Institute in College Station, Texas.
Our course for this week is LNG Spill Control and Suppression.
The ERS Team again comprises of:
• Craig Hynes
• Scott Temple
• Liam Walter
• Brad Giddings
We have made it to College Station after a couple of days break in Austin. It was a great town and we all enjoyed the time off. We managed to get in a couple of activities despite the thunderstorms and flooding rain in the area. Highlights of the weekend was a visit to the Alamo in San Antonio and I also managed to get a cycle in with a group of Texans. Where I set off from Mellow Johnny’s a famous cycle store in the States. Dougy also managed to get a momento of Texas with a tatoo of the famous texan longhorns. Scott and Brad also enjoyed their time by sightseeing in 6th avenue Austin’s best night spot. We managed to get in a few more steaks this time with some vegetables instead of the obligatory fries that accompanies most meals in the States.
We are looking forward to the LNG course. The first impressions of the facility is that it is awesome! Our class is large with about 40 participants. We are in the class room today before we are out in the training facility tomorrow for some practical work.
Today we are covering LNG properties and characteristics, types of incidents, control using foam, rapid phase transition and dry chemical application.
The course content is very good with our Instructor Kirk Richardson a veteran of 28 years at the college specializing in LNG. He is a wealth of knowledge and his anecdotes and insights in to major incidents made the connection between the theory and the practical that much more interesting and palatable.
In the afternoon we head down to the Brayton Field Training Site, it is a huge facility that spans over 200 acres. The props are very well presented and there is a lot of activity going on including a fire training school. Our course participants heads for the bunker gear store where we try on our kit for the course, including fire tunic and over pants, flash hood, boots, gloves and helmet.
We then head off for the first prop which is the application of dry chemical powder on a LNG fire. Everyone is given the opportunity to extinguish the fire in a drill that it presented with military precision.
The next scenario is using the large 350lb wheeled extinguishers. The teams are split up and the prop is cranked up to a furious level of fire. The heat from the fire prop is a lot hotter than we have experienced form hydrocarbon and propane fires. All of the crews complete the task and it is back to the class room for the day’s summary. Tomorrow we are back for a full day of firefighting which we are all looking forward too.
Day Two (Final Day)
Back at the Brayton Field today for our final day of training on our Texas excursion. We expect to be on the fireground for most of the day. However we are back in the classroom for the first part to undertake some training in Maritime LNG incidents, rapid phase transition and foam application.
Watch the video of one of the trainings here
The Maritime session is very interesting with background on ships, tug fire boats and loading/unloading facilities. We watch a couple of videos of actual incidents to get an appreciation of the devastation and sudden impact that compressed gases and flammable liquid incidents can have.
After a short break we have another safety briefing before heading down to put our PPE on and then over to the LNG tanker unloading the gas. We are given a briefing of the tanker set up including markings, safety relief valves and the types of unloading methods.
Once that is completed we are given a demonstration of the pooled LNG where its characteristics can change dramatically depending on the circumstance. The liquid gas quickly cools down surrounding surfaces and then it settles down to what is termed steady state. This is opposed to the liquid poured on to water as this has an extreme reaction where the liquid rapidly boils off and produces a large vapour cloud. This is reinforced as the reason why water streams are ineffective as a suppressant when dealing with large pool fires.
Similarly a demonstration of the cryogenic power of the liquid is when a fire boot is dipped in to the liquid and then removed and hit with a hammer. The boot shatters in to pieces. The exercise is repeated with mild steel and with the same result when hit with a hammer.
It is now time to burn some liquid and to try different suppression techniques. The first exercise we will be doing is again using the handheld dry chemical extinguishers. For this exercise the LNG is pooled in one of the big pits. The heat is intense and it is quite impressive how effective the dry chemical is knocking down the intense burning. All students are given an opportunity to extinguish the fire with only a couple not completing the task successfully.
The next exercise is moved to the big pit where we will be burning a large pool of LNG. It is pretty impressive that the college can put this type of prop together and really makes the experience of flying here all this way to undertake this worthwhile.
The heat from the large burns is quite intense, we are now using the large trailer mounted and wheeled dry chemical units. If you showed enough enthusiasm you got several opportunities, the ERS contingent were certainly enthusiastic and we were able to operate the equipment several times.
The next task was to control the vapour cloud once a release is initiated by application of water to the liquid pool. This demonstrates the lesson of avoiding the use of water on large fires. It is important to control the vapour cloud where possible, so several water curtains and fog patters are used to disperse the cloud successfully.
In the final session we get to operate the Hi Expansion foam generator, whilst the application of the foam in large quantities does not extinguish the fierce fire it notably reduces the intensity. Brad, Doug, Scott and I are then given the opportunity to move in to extinguish the fire once the Hi Ex has been applied.
This is the final exercise we will be doing on our TEEX training trip. It has been a great experience and all team members have benefited greatly from the opportunity to enhance our skills and broaden our knowledge base.
We complete the course close out and critique and before we know it we are on the road to Houston to prepare for our flights back home. It has been a memorable experience and whilst we are looking forward to getting home to our families and friends we will certainly have fond memories of Texas.