How San Juan County would respond to an oil spill

Posted 05/14/10 on the San Juan Islander website in response to inquiries during the Gulf of Mexico BP oil rig disaster.


The recent oil rig disaster and subsequent endless flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico has once again raised the horrifying specter of a really big oil spill here in our own precious part of the world. Sitting as we do right in the middle of major shipping lanes, islanders pay close attention when a spill such as the Exxon-Valdez occurs and now the pouring of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

What many islanders are discovering as a result of this latest disaster is that, thanks to the awareness of so many of us, and the incredible spirit of commitment to protect this place, our own local oil spill response organization already exists. It is non-profit and community-based, with over 300 island residents throughout the years who have taken the training that is freely offered several times a year in the islands by Islands’ Oil Spill Association, the only spill response group in the San Juans.

Nine thousand four hundred feet of IOSA-owned containment boom (plus another 4000′ which IOSA manages) is ready for immediate use in the event of a spill. The boom is spread between 11 locations, all within five minutes of a launch site, which allows quick access to boom in all corners of the islands.

IOSA has six dedicated spill response vessels and we work with many trained responders who have their own workboats. Equipment trailers containing anchor systems, sorbents, pumps, skimmers and other gear are stationed at strategic locations throughout the islands, including the outlying islands of Stuart and Sucia.

Nearly 130 IOSA responders are also trained and have their state-required eight-hour certification for Oiled Bird Search & Rescue, Basic Care and Stabilization. At least 20 of these responders have put their name on the list to work down along the Gulf Coast if needed. As of this date, May 13, oiled wildlife responders from outside the region are not yet being asked to help but the situation is ever-changing.

In addition to classroom training, IOSA holds five to six on-the-water boom deployment/containment drills a year. IOSA crews have completed 68 site-specific field tests of protective booming strategies for sensitive areas/bays in the San Juan Islands and installed rock anchors in many locations where no other suitable shore attachment exists. Ongoing training keeps us prepared and allows responders to update their certification on a regular basis. It also allows new people to get involved in local oil spill response.

If you would like more information on our own community’s preparedness for a major oil spill, as well as the smaller spills that frequently happen and have required a full IOSA response over 100 times, please go to the IOSA website. Or call the IOSA office.

There are many ways you can help. Watching the ongoing tragedy in the Gulf, one of the many things I feel is a strong sense of gratitude for IOSA and all the people in the San Juans who make IOSA the wonderful organization that it is.

by Jackie Wolf, IOSA Coordinator