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Oil Spills - Emergency Response

Accidents in the Lloydminster area are the responsibility of the Area R-1 Emergency Unit. This unit is a cooperative of area companies and individuals who have organized to provide a cost-effective way to deal with spills related to oil and gas production. The R-1 Emergency Unit is part of a network of 28 cooperatives spanning oil producing areas from north-east British Columbia to south-west Manitoba and is overseen by the Western Canadian Spill Services Ltd. (WCSS) board of directors and the petroleum industry. The Petroleum Industry Training Service (PITS) provides the Oil Spill Contingency Manual and training support for the cooperatives. Although this organization is designed as a cooperative, the company responsible for the spill assumes liability for the accident.

The mandate of the WCSS is accomplished by providing administrative support, equipment, planning, and training. Effective clean-up methods have been developed through research, trial and error, and through training exercises. Training exercises are made as realistic as possible through the use of materials that behave like petroleum but are not environmentally hazardous, such as canola oil. Rapid deployment and the know how, which is provided through training and contingency manuals, is essential to the minimize the impact of an incident to watercourse, groundwater, soil, and atmospheric environments while protecting the safety of the worker. The WCSS also ensures that proper protocol is observed and incidents are reported to the necessary regulatory organization.

The local unit is designated R-1 because its sphere of responsibility spans the Alta/Sask provincial border. Alberta areas are denoted alphabetically while those in Saskatchewan are given numbers.

Equipment Available to WCSS Members:


The Oil Spill Containment and Recovery (OSCAR) trailer provides the necessary equipment to the cooperatives. WCSS OSCAR is a full sized van style trailer with contents valued at $300,000. This equipment is designed to contain and recover an oil spill in surface water.

The equipment includes: 300m of boom, skimmers, pumps, and associated hardware. Because of the expense, these trailers are not owned by each co-op but are strategically located for rapid deployment. The locations of these trailers include: Fort St. John, Grande Prairie, Slave Lake, Whitecourt, Nisku, Stetler, Calgary, Lethbridge, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, and Winnipeg.

Many cooperatives have aquired equipment to supplement the OSCAR and tailor these aquisitions to conditions that may be specific to their area.


A smaller version of the OSCAR. They typically contain 125m of boom, 300m of rope, skimmers, pumps, and sorbents (absorbent material).

Winter OSCAR

Contains ice cutting equipment and a specialized heat traced skimmer.


Uses a curtain of forced air to completely burn spill debris without producing black, sooty smoke. An oxygen rich burn environment reaching temperatures of approximately 8000C is created. It is a completely road transportable unit.

Lake Boom

A lake boom is larger than a river boom and, when deployed, reaches 12 inches below and 12 inches above the surface. River boom dimensions account for the effects of current and cannot reach much below the surface. Lake booms are stored in containers that contain 300m of boom.

Air Bubble Diverter

Consists of perforated pipes which can be adapted to suit the situation. Compressed air, supplied by an air compressor, is forced into the pipe while it is submerged in a body of water. Air escapes through the perforations forcing the water to well up at the surface creating a wall. This wall prevents to spread of oil and forces it back to shore.

Disc Skimmer

Multiple oleophylic (oil sticks and water doesn’t) discs rotate through oil covered water, the oil adheres to the disc and is scraped off into a collection reservoir. WCSS has two Morris Disc Skimmers.

Drum Skimmer

Used in slow moving or stagnant water these Elastic Drum Skimmers collect oil and a small amount of water. WCSS has three of these dual drum air driven skimmers.

Rope Mop Skimmer

Oleophylic polypropylene filament rope is run through oil, around a pulley, and through a wringer that squeezes the oil out of the rope and into a reservoir.


These large (22ft long x 8ft wide, weighing 7,500 lbs) are powered by twin 350cc Chevrolet engines with jet drives that produce 10,000 gpm of waterjet propulsion. They are designed to operate in fast and/or rough water which can be less than one foot in depth.   They can haul heavy equipment to remote locations, and provide a stable work platform. WCSS has five of these boats.


WCSS has twelve of these specially designed utility/safety-rescue boats which are powered by a 90 hp outboard jet motor. This stable craft is designed to operate in inches of water and is coated with a Teflon like material. The "rat" is 16 ft long, six ft wide and weighs 1,200 lbs.

Hose Trailer

Is deployed when fluid must by pumped over a long distance. It contains 300m of hose, a screw pump, four trash pumps, and a 6,500-watt generator.

Spill Containment and Recovery


When a spill occurs on land, a quick response is necessary to limit the affected area as much as possible. Measures such as blocking culverts, digging bell holes or trenches, and building dikes and inverted weirs may be incorporated. Once the spill is contained, any standing fluid is removed by pumping or vacuuming it into a tank. There are several options available for the removal of residual oil including: water flushing, in-situ burning, and sorbents.

When water flushing is used, the area is flushed with water and the oil and water are collected in a specially built lined pond. In the pond the oil floats atop the water and is skimmed off while the water is siphoned off the bottom. Care must be taken so that soil is not dispersed during the process. As well, soil type must be taken into consideration and the proper amendments (calcium, fertilizers, etc.) used to minimize impact. A cold water flush is used for saltwater spills, while a hot water flush is used for oil. Safety is a greater concern with a hot water flush as more vapours are present.

In-situ burning of the oil of a spill is often the method of last resort. Not only must regulatory approval be obtained, but other criteria must also be met, such as: it may be unsafe to retain and recover the product by other means, burning may prevent the imminent contamination of a sensitive area, the use of equipment may have a greater negative effect on the site, the oil film must be 2mm or more thick, a controlled burn must be possible, and it must be possible to have an effective burn and contain the product to the site.

In almost all instances, more than one method must be employed for a complete clean-up, and the use of sorbents is most often one of the methods used. Sorbents are absorbent materials and are used to soak up residual oil. The type used must be easy to apply and remove. Despite the units best efforts, the removal, cleaning, and replacing of some soil is usually required. As well, whenever possible, all of the clean-up operations are to be completed on site


Although speed of response is always critical when a spill occurs, its importance is accentuated when water, especially moving water, is involved. Even so, the speed of the water, and the elapsed time between the spill and its discovery may require the cleanup focus to be on more than one front. One location would be as close to the source as possible to stop further down stream contamination with others located downstream to trap and cleanup escaped product. Areas where the current is less than 4 km/hr and where the current directs the product towards the shore at a place of easy access are sought and greatly enhance the unit’s efficiency. Unfortunately, salt water mixes readily with fresh and little can be done except to hope the amount of contamination is not critical.

Once all factors have been assessed a plan of attack is devised, a military-like chain of command ensures all tasks are carried out safely and efficiently. Such a hierarchy limits duplication of both command and task. Spheres of responsibility include: logistics, booms, skimmers, and boats.

Anchors for the booms can be natural (trees), manmade (bridge pylons), or inserted along the shore by the crew. Boom angles are set in relation to the direction of the current and dictated by the speed of the current. Skimmers are put into place and a means to collect the skimmed oil is established. The oil is directed by the current so booms are not, necessarily, required to transverse the complete watercourse.

Watercourse spill cleanup is not limited to water born oil and the shoreline must also be cleaned. Shore contamination can be reduced through the use of a straw bale barrier that will prevent the oil from reaching the shore and will soak up some of the oil. Shoreline conditions and speed of current may limit or eliminate straw bale usage. However, despite the crews best efforts, recovery is never 100%. Fortunately, oil is biodegradable and nature looks after the rest. During spill operations, every effort is made to prevent wildlife from entering the area, and any contaminated animals receive the necessary care. Scare tactics such as gas cannons, pyrotechnics, and scarecrows are employed for to keep animals away. It is hoped that the goals of maximum recovery and minimal environmental impact are achieved through these measures.

Lakes and Sloughs

Apart from the natural spread of oil on water, wind strength and direction are a concern on stationary and slow moving bodies of water. To prevent contact with shore, booms or straw bales can be deployed in areas where contact is possible. Once potential environmental issues (including wildlife) are resolved, the slick can be corralled in a boom and skimmed. In-situ burning may be used to clean the shore, if the criteria is met, or the contaminated material must be removed, the soil cleaned, and sorbents used to remove as much residual contamination as possible. When saltwater is spilled in a slough, and it raises the salinity above 500 ppm, the offending company may be forced to pump the slough dry to prevent further damage.

Ice Covered Watercourse

The thickness of the ice cover dictates the method of attack. If the ice is thin, it can be broken up and attacked more conventionally. However, the thicker the ice the larger the equipment that can be implemented. In motionless or slow moving water, cut or broken ice may provide a sufficient barrier to the slick’s spread. If the ice is thick and the current is carrying the oil under the ice, the oil can be accessed by cutting slots at angles similar to the open water model for booms. To encourage the water to direct the oil toward shore a "J" can be cut in the lead end to create a swirl. Slots must be wide enough for a skimmer to fit (approx. 1m)

Depending on the thickness of the ice, slots can be cut using chainsaws, backhoes, ditchwitches, or steam lines. Once the block is cut, it may be pushed under the ice or a hole may be made in it and a t-bar inserted to lift it out. Keeping equipment thawed and working is a constant problem. If sections of ice have become contaminated, they will have to be removed.

In-situ Burning

This method of consuming spilled hydrocarbons and contaminated debris is most often chosen as a last resort. Conditions must be near prefect, regulatory and landowner approval must be obtained, and benefits must be clear and out weigh any negative effects. Reasons include: it is not safe to use other methods, burning would prevent imminent contamination of a sensitive area, burning would reduce or prevent soil and surface/groundwater contamination.  Although ignition materials and accelerants may be employed, their purpose is to maintain the burn and ensure as complete a burn as possible. Little can be done to eliminate the smoke associated with a heavy hydrocarbon fire and this is an important concern.

Improved technologies and changing attitudes are making oil spills unlikely but. should they occur, the techniques and technologies described above insure that environmental impact will be kept to a minimum.