Alaskans head to Gulf to help with oil spill

Posted: Thursday, June 10, 2010

FAIRBANKS - Fairbanks residents trained in spill response are in the Gulf of Mexico helping to clean up the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster.

The Alaskans spent Tuesday teaching shrimp and oyster fishermen proper tactics for pulling boom, skimming oil, handling hazardous material and transporting oil in mini-barges back to shore.

"Those are the techniques and tactics we have up on the North Slope," said Ron Morris, general manager of Alaska Clean Seas. "It's something that we're ready to do."

Alaska Clean Seas is a not-for-profit cooperative comprised of 10 oil industry companies, including BP, ConocoPhillips and pipeline operator Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., specializing in oil-spill response.

A dozen of its 80 employees are in the Gulf. They will train and outfit 150 vessels to cover shallower bayous closer to shore and deeper surfaces 25 miles off shore, Morris said. They have already forwarded 82,000 feet of boom and a variety of oil skimmers - drain-like equipment that removes oil floating on the surface.

"This thing will go on until they stop the oil flow, so it's going to be months," Morris said. "Even after they stop the flow, there's a lot of oil to be picked up."

The group's first priority is the North Slope, so employees are sent to the Gulf on their time off.

Ron Hocking, operations manager for Alaska Clean Seas, said he's happy to be in the Gulf, despite the 14-hour workdays and stifling heat. "These guys love this area, and they love the work that they do. They're extremely concerned about protecting the Gulf."

Spill experts are not the only Interior residents pitching in. BP Alaska is rotating through a cadre of engineers, environmental and community-relations workers, and two Alaska Native leaders visited last month to support coastal communities.

Faith Gemmill, director of the Native group Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands in Fairbanks, visited seven Native American communities in late May and encouraged safer cleaning methods.

"When we were out on the boat, we saw shrimpers laying boom and picking up contaminated boom," she said. "They weren't even wearing gloves."

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