This is a subject of great importance which unfortunately is lacking in many areas of the world. It is common during and shortly after large oil spills and with changes in legislation, large quantities of equipment are bought in readiness for the next event.
This is not a new problem; it came to light during the early hours of what has become the best known marine oil spill, Exxon Valdez. The response company set up originally to respond to spills from the north slope of Alaska to the terminal in Valdez, had very few spills during 15 years of operations and so the major oil companies started to get the feeling of complacency and so started to cut back on that part of the system.
Then the big incident happens and you find out that what is written in the contingency plan looks nothing like what is actually available.
The photograph shows part of the huge stockpile of equipment at Valdez port during the Exxon incident.
It must said that the SERVS system that was put in place after the Exxon Valdez incident is very impressive and is still working 20 years after the incident. Why do we as humans “close the door when the horse has bolted” and think “that will never happen to me”.In many countries major oil companies have set up their own tier 1 and tier 2 bases with the idea that if they have a major incident they would also have tier 3 by using their collective equipment. The idea is excellent but unfortunatley we have for the last 20 years lived in a world controlled by financial people, who know absolutely nothing about operational work. It is apparent with the recent world's economic problems that these people cannot be trusted to run their part of the world effectively without parental control. In their opinion the original investment cost of equipment was all that was required to reduce the amount of incidents. In actual fact it was more due to training in prevention of spills and environmental issues being of major importance these days. The initial cost was high and in many cases the equipment has never been used in anger.
The main problems today is that short sighted ill informed financial people see the expense as something that can be cut back.In many cases large amounts of money has been spent on company propaganda when they should be spending the money on maintenance of the equipment. After Exxon Valdez the International Convention OPRC 90 states the need for equipment at all terminals etc. for tier 1 response. Many of the signatory countries have covered this requirement. Exxon Valdez happened in March 1989 over 20 years ago and much of the equipment bought around that time is still in stockpiles around the world. With sensible maintenance much of it still works today, although it is in some cases outdated. Maintenance goes on for many years and in many cases over time will cost more than the original investment. It is no different than any fire brigade, everything is maintained and ready for when the telephone rings. We would all be annoyed if our house caught fire and when the fire brigade arrived the equipment did not work.On many occasions the purchase of equipment is done for public relations, especially by state owned oil companies after large spills or a string of oil spills to show their commitment to the environment. Many millions of dollars have been spent and large stockpiles have been created but as has been found, some years later when the next oil spill happens, the lack of maintenance during the intervening years creates a huge logistical and operational problem. New hydraulic hoses need to be purchased, batteries are either flat or have been borrowed for other equipment, to name just two.Many companies who had bad reputations have cleaned up their environmental images, so their companies could be floated on stock exchanges, if an incident happens investors are very fast at removing their money from one company and investing it in another thus causing huge financial problems.
This also happens when the company with the incident is seen to be unable to respond competently to the spill because of cut backs in maintenance.
During the Deewater Horizon incident BP stock dropped 42% removing billions of dollars from the company.
I find it difficult to understand how after huge financial investments have been made for the expectations of a rapid response are destroyed by lack of essential maintenance due to cost. The same public that were led to think that the equipment bought after the last oil spill would save their world when the next one happens, might have been on your side, but when it is seen that it is not working it will be this public that are now crucifying you in the media and taking you to court for millions in your currency for compensation.Example left:
A company bought a boom system which cost at the time just over US$ 1 million. It can only be deployed from a ship or a barge.
Someone decided to put it on a production platform, due to the fact that there was not much spare space, it was put where the doors cannot be opened. It has been there now for just over 8 years with no maintenance done to date. If or when an incident occurs you don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that it will not work.
Equipment maintenance is essential. A proper maintenance program starts with ensuring that one person is designated and responsible for the maintenance programme. The maintenance person should then ensure that all the user and technical manuals associated with the equipment are kept together and are available in a central location.The people doing the physical maintenance should also be held responsible for the work they are doing. Maintenance is usually done in two forms preventative and corrective; unfortunately there are another two!
1st Preventive maintenance (PM):The care and servicing by personnel for the purpose of maintaining equipment in a satisfactory operating condition by providing systematic inspection, detection, and correction of failures either before they occur or before they develope into major defects including tests, adjustments, and part replacements, performed specifically to prevent faults from occurring. While preventive maintenance is generally considered to be worthwhile, there are risks such as equipment failure or human error involved when performing the PM, just as in any maintenance operation. PM whether a scheduled overhaul or scheduled replacement provides two of the three proactive failure management tools available to the maintenance engineer. However reliability centered maintenance provides the most rigorous and method to determine applicable and effective failure management this may include PM tasks - for an item.To make it simple: Preventive maintenance is conducted to keep equipment working and/or extend the life of the equipment. The primary goal of maintenance is to avoid or mitigate the consequences of failure of equipment. This may be by preventing the failure before it actually occurs with PM and condition based maintenance. It is designed to preserve and restore equipment reliability by replacing worn components before they actually fail. Preventive maintenance activities include partial or complete overhauls at specified periods, oil changes, lubrication and so on. In addition, personnel can record the history of the equipment deterioration so they know to replace or repair worn parts before they cause system failure. The ideal preventive maintenance programme would prevent all equipment failure before it occurs.A maintenance programme usually consists of weekly, 1, 3, 6 and 12 monthly each item has a procedure explaining what has to be done. What tools are necessary and what type of PPE will be required to carry out the task. This programme is usually held on a computer database and each week a new set of tasks are given to the people responsible for the maintenance.This is not only done in bases but also during oil spill responses. In some cases the equipment will be used for many months and a system has to be set up to allow for this maintenance to be carried out. This brings us to another common problem; in many cases the maintenance team stays behind and members of the response team do not know how to do the maintenance.All personnel involved with response should know how to do the basic maintenance of all the equipment they are likely to use. In many cases the team will be working in remote locations or aboard ships with no supply lines so if things go wrong they will be expected to get things running again.A basic knowledge of diesel and petrol engines, hydraulic systems and electric circuits as well as being able to decipher wiring diagrams is a must for operational team members. Tool kits as well as the type off spares that regularly fail are necessary to keep the operation running. It is usually a small thing that brings the whole operation to a halt.When equipment has been used on an incident it should be kept in a quarantine area until a 12 monthly service is done before putting back on the shelf for the next incident.
2nd Corrective maintenance:
Maintenance carried out after a failure has occurred to get equipment working again. Our aim is to avoid this happening.
3rd Paper maintenance:This is dear to my heart and is usually instigated by some buracratic idiot. In some places it is more important to fill in the forms than to do the actual maintenance. When audits are carried out the paper is always where they start. Experienced maintenance people are so busy filling in forms correctly they have no time to check whether the maintenance is being done correctly. Of course when the day arrives that the equipment is needed and does not work correctly it is the same experienced maintenance people that are to blame, not the idiots that put the mountains of paperwork in place.
4th Destructive maintenance:This is usually introduced by people who have no operational background or mechanical knowledge.
It consists of things like running pump motors or hydraulic power packs weekly without connecting the hoses to make the pump and motor work under load.
Just because the manual says the pump is self priming does not mean that it can be run weekly without water to lubricate the rubber internal pump parts. Testing the motor but not the pump, is like starting your car but not putting it into gear, you know the engine works but have no idea whether the car will move.Diesel engines can suffer damage from internal glazing and carbon buildup. This is a common problem and is caused by failure to follow application and operating guidelines. Ideally, diesel engines should be run at least 60-75% of their maximum rated load. Short periods of low load running are permissible providing the set is brought up to full load, or close to full load on a regular basis.Running an engine under low loads causes low cylinder pressures and consequently poor piston ring sealing since this relies on the gas pressure to force them against the oil film on the bores to form the seal. A Low cylinder pressures causes poor combustion and resultant low combustion pressures and temperatures.This poor combustion leads to soot formation and un-burnt fuel residues which clog and gum up piston rings, which causes a further drop in sealing efficiency. Glazing occurs when hot combustion gases blow past the now poorly-sealing piston rings, causing the lubricating oil on the cylinder walls to 'flash burn', creating an enamel-like glaze which smoothes the bore and removes the effect of the pattern of honing marks machined into the bore surface to hold lubricating oil and return it to the crankcase.Hard carbon also forms from poor combustion and this is highly abrasive and scrapes the honing marks on the bores leading to bore polishing, which then leads to increased oil consumption (blue smoking) and yet further loss of pressure. Un-burnt fuel then leaks past the piston rings and contaminates the lubricating oil. Poor combustion causes the injectors to become clogged with soot, causing further deterioration in combustion and black exhaust smoke.The problem is increased further with the formation of acids in the engine oil caused by condensed water and combustion by-products which would normally boil off at higher temperatures. This acid build-up in the lubricating oil causes slow but ultimately damaging wear to bearing surfaces. This cycle of degradation means that the engine soon becomes irreversibly damaged and may not start at all and will no longer be able to reach full power when required.I have seen and complained about weekly engine tests for smoke emissions. Now you have read this you will see, that over a period of time the engine will start to show blue then black smoke. There are no laws covering emissions from stationary engines. So why invent them?This type of action causes expensive and completely unnecessary damage to perfectly good engines. Diaphragm pumps that have undergone this type of destructive maintenance have lost their ability to self prime, due to the edges of the diaphragms being worn and damaged without water acting as a lubricant, therefore they loose their suction.It is true some pumps may be run dry while they self prime themselves. Just because they can be run dry for a few minutes while the water arrives does not mean that this can be done for hours during a year with no water at all to lubricate the working parts.What is required is a team of personnel who are willing and able to carry out the maintenance of all the equipment held at the response base.
This does not mean there is a need to employ mechanical, electrical and hydraulic engineers. It means that well rounded people with the abilty to understand the basics of these trades and carry them out as well as training other members of the team should be employed.
Most pieces of equipment have their own built in problems that will fail again and again, having spares, tools and the ability to fix it where ever it maybe, is all that is required. First aider's are not expected to do surgery but they have saved many lives. They are just expected to keep the patient alive until professional help arrives if it is necessary.Again we can go into these subjects to master degree standard but we just want to keep it going during the incident and then have it ready for the next one. Under the Equipment tab is some basic information about hydraulics and diesel engines that will require maintenance.
Do not fall into the trap of having a group of maintenance people in the base and group of responders without the knowledge of tools to do running repairs in the field. All response team members should have an understanding the basics and carry out regular maintenance. They will need to know what to do when they are offshore or in a remote location which is where things go wrong.
Having tools and knowing how to fix things is a necessary part of a response team members responsibility.
Storage how not to do it!
The main problem in many countries outside of Europe is the sun, booms inparticular are made from different plastics which are not resistant to the sun's uv radiation. The main indication of a problem is the change in colour as the sun bleaches the material, it becomes brittle and cracks. Polypropelene ropes left in the sun will stard to disintigrate.
The storage of booms in particular is important mainly to keep the material out of direct sunlight. Here are a few photos showing how not to do it. The light colour shows where the boom has been uncovered and bleached by the sun, the dark orange is the colour it should be not pink!
This section of boom is now scrap, because if it were used the material would know doubt split open and sink.
Left is a serious amount of money tied up in two boom reels where the covers have been damaged by sunlight so it is only a matter of time before the boom material becomes bleached pink and becomes brittle and in this case a section of 25 meters of boom will need to be replaced. New covers are considerably cheaper than new boom.
The photo right remindes me of a training course at Yambu, Saudi Arabia. They had this Troil fence boom which hangs in a frame. The cover had been destroyed by the sun and no one bought another one. While making the boom ready for deployment we noticed that the sun had also damaged the green braided plastic tow rope.
We tried to explain that the deployment would not go very well if the damaged materials were not taken care of, all to no avail.
The tow rope was given to a small tow boat and off he went. The air was full of green dust coming from the sun damaged tow rope. The boom unfurled from the frame and entered the water, as it did the top of the boom material opened and the square white floats floated as the rest of the boom sank to the bottom. Instead of storing it with a cover or just out of the sun the company lost 250m of boom from its inventory.
Unfortunately you are not allowed to take photos in Saudi Arabian terminals. I still have that image in my head.
Left is a boom reel which had a cover that was orange, it does not take long under a tropical sun for this to happen. The boom is made from neoprene which will take even less time to be effected if you do not have room to keep booms under cover you need to buy covers regularly.
Photo right shows a common problem. Usually when the maintenance people do not deploy the equipment. here we have a boom on a reel that has been left in the same position for a long time.
Gravity takes over and the boom sags onto the floor. This makes it very difficult to deploy without doing damage to the boom material. The heavier the boom the bigger the problem for those trying to deploy it.
The remedy is simple every month the reel needs to be connected to a power pack so it can be turned and tightened.
Here is a section of a Hydrofire boom which belonged to a company in a tropical region.
The white fire resistant material has been eaten by insects until the water hoses became exposed. Covering the boom with a plastic rap material did not help.
For the owner Deepwater Horizon happened and it went to the Gulf of Mexico here it was repaired before being used for that response.
The replacement fire booms will no doubt suffer from the same problem.
Here is an interesting one:
This type of action happens when companies think they will be the only people working on an oil spill no matter how big it get's.
All hoses have a male at one end and a female at the other and therefore pumps normally have a female inlet and a male outlet in some cases this maybe visa a versa.
Look at a fire engine how could they work together if they had the connections below.
In this case we have one pump with two male connections and another with two females when we get to the skimmer we now have a male to male and with the other a female to female.
Male to male or female to female connections do not connect together.
It is obvous that when maintenance is done, the pump is run but not the whole system.
This was an exercise but could have been an incident, whether anything will be done about this is another question, when training is done equipment in some cases especially in tier 1 bases, is just put back on the shelf because there are more important things to do. So when an incident or exercise comes along nothing is going to work.
The question now is how would these pumps work on a really large incident?
Answer; someone intelligent would change them.