Contingency Planning For Oil Spills. An International Perspective

Salt, David (Oil Spill Response Limited)


Oil spills are not noted for their recognition of international boundaries, it is a relatively simple matter for a spill to quickly escalate into an international incident. It has also been recognized that there is benefit in allowing resources to be shared when responding to spills through a process of layering the response levels. One important factor in this is the pre-planning to allow this process to run smoothly and effectively. This paper looks at some of the issues involved in this planning cycle.

Over the last few years the Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response Convention (OPRC) has been spreading throughout the international arena. This convention outlines the benefits of improved planning, training management and response equipment availability to enhance the success of any response operation. The convention attempts to improve the cross boundary co-operation between countries to facilitate the deployment of personnel and equipment to provide assistance.

The amount of oil spill equipment which is available in the world is quite astonishing, the oil industry (IPIECA) approach to oil spill contingency planning recommends that the tiered approach to oil spills be adopted. This concept is aimed at ensuring that each operation conducted by the industry has the requisite amount of equipment and resources to respond to the spills which are most likely to occur i.e. the small operational spill, whilst catering for the large event which may require additional resources from outside the region. Ultimately the major event or worst case scenario must be considered where all of the local and regional response capability is exhausted and additional resources must be imported from an external source.

The structure may be represented diagrammatically (Fig. 1).

In order to define the tiers or layers of response it is important to consider the operation taking place. The likely magnitude of a tier 1 spill from a VLCC hose failure during cargo operation at an SBM will be vastly different from that of a hose failure during a small bunker transfer operation in a port. Equally a tier 1 spill which migrates away from the area of operation automatically becomes a Tier 2 spill because it has a wider impact potential.

The most satisfactory way to define the tiers is by referring to the ability to respond to them. For example:-

Tier 1 - A spill which can be dealt with by the resources immediately available.

Tier 2 - A spill which cannot be dealt with by the resources immediately available and requiring local or regional assistance.

Tier 3 - A spill which requires national or international resources to be deployed.

Industry has over the last few years required that operators be required to provide an adequate Tier 1 response based on a comprehensive spill risk assessment of the operation.

This has led to an increased availability of response equipment, which may in the event of a larger be mutually pooled to support a Tier 2 incident.

Since the introduction of the OPRC convention ratifying states have been required to ensure that the following elements were in place to respond to an incident.

- A designated competent national authority

- A National response plan