MORE than 100 people are expected to take part in one of the biggest oil spill exercises ever carried out in Britain, when a simulated deep water oil spill off Shetland is enacted next month.
The two day exercise being planned by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) will take place on 18 and 19 May.
It was organised after Scottish first minister Alex Salmond wrote to prime minister David Cameron last May calling for an exercise in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico disaster one year ago, to make sure the UK had the capacity to cope with such a deep water incident.
More recently a House of Commons energy and climate change select committee inquiry into a Deepwater Horizon-style oil spill west of Shetland found it would be virtually impossible to clean up the resulting pollution in the rough seas in the area, suggesting the focus should be on prevention rather than cure.
Last year the UK government set up a planning group for next month’s exercise involving the emergency services, government agencies, the local authority and the oil industry.
US oil giant Chevron, who are exploring for oil in the deep water Lagavulin prospect 100 miles north of Shetland, signed up for it even before they were targeted by environmental campaigners Greenpeace in Lerwick harbour last September.
The exercise will involve representatives from both UK and Scottish governments, environmental protection agency SEPA, Shetland Islands Council, the police and the fishing industry, as well as trades body Oil & Gas UK.
Exercise director Murray Milligan, who is the MCA’s regional resilience co-ordinator based in Dover, came to Shetland last month to discuss logistics with the council’s emergency planning department.
Mr Milligan said the first day would simulate “a deteriorating offshore drilling related scenario” that would involve a wide range of people having to respond to “real time” events.
A shoreline response centre (SRC) will be set up in Shetland, with an operational control unit (OCU) and marine response centre (MRC) based in Aberdeen.
“The SRC is there to make sure that everything happens on the ground where oil is coming ashore, while the other centres are just there to tell other people to do things,” he said.
“In real life this would not last for just two days and it would be considered then to move the MRC to Shetland.”
The second day will be a “table top” exercise simulating events six days after the oil spill to plan for what should be done next.
There will also be a demonstration of all the counter pollution equipment stored at Sella Ness, where the council runs the Sullom Voe oil port.