The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), along with five other state and local agencies, staged an eight-hour training exercise involving a mock petroleum spill in Buzzards Bay near Ram Island off of the Town of Mattapoisett on October 22. The goal of the field exercise was to test the current protection strategy for Ram Island in the event of a real oil spill in the bay.
Ram Island is one of only three primary nesting locations for the roseate tern, a federal- and state-designated endangered species and a high-protection priority during a spill.
MassDEP has developed 160 Geographic Response Plans (GRPs) for coastal Massachusetts that are designed to protect environmentally sensitive areas in the event of a large oil spill. This exercise involved the implementation of the GRP tactic for Ram Island by deploying nearly 1,700 feet of MassDEP and USCG open-water boom.
Boom is deployed along the water surface and provides a physical barrier to contain and herd oil or other floating contaminated material. A total of eight state and federal vessels were used during this exercise, which was based out of the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal. In addition, a command center was established in a Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) mobile emergency operations center trailer in Fairhaven.
Since passage of the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act of 2004, MassDEP has conducted more than 30 GRP exercises, but this event was the largest training exercise due to the complexity of the protection tactics and the location of Ram Island. The team will assess the lessons learned and prepare an after-action report. Lessons learned will help improve this specific GRP, as well as yield valuable information on the resources needed to deploy this and other oil spill protection strategies.
“Practice drills are essential for response team members,” said MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg. “When a real-life release incident takes place, it helps considerably to have people who have experience and training, not only with using the equipment, but in terms of collaborating among multiple emergency response agencies.”