Oil in ice: Expanding expertise into new environments

ST. IGNACE, Mich. - The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Hollyhock, homeported in Port Huron, Mich., and the commercial tugboats Reliance, Nickelena and Erika Kobasic, sit moored at Coast Guard Station St. Ignace, Mich., Jan. 24, 2011. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class George Degener.

The Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center, in New London, Conn., working with the State of Michigan and other environmental response agencies, held an exercise in the Straits of Mackinac in northern Michigan to try and determine the best ways to apply that same expertise to oil spills in icy waters.

“The Research and Development Center is working with the 9th and 17th Coast Guard Districts to test emergent, cold-weather response technologies,” said T.J. Mangoni, supervisor of the District Response Advisory Team for the 9th District. “Lessons learned working in the fresh water environment of the Great Lakes can be applied to the Arctic as well.”

From Jan. 23-25, crewmembers aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Hollyhock, a 225-foot seagoing buoy tender homeported in Port Huron, Mich., three commercial tugboat crews and observers from Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., the R&D center, the 1st, 5th and 17th Coast Guard Districts, members of the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific Strike Teams and other agencies deployed new cold-weather skimming systems near Mackinac Island and the Mackinac Bridge.

STRAITS OF MACKINAC - Crewmembers aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Hollyhock, homeported in Port Huron, Mich., use an oil-skimming device to recover peat moss, acting as a substitute for spilled oil, near Mackinac Island, Jan. 24, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Schofield.

Project participants used environmentally friendly matter, like peat moss and oranges, as substitutes for spilled oil. Deployment crews were able to test their equipment’s durability in the rugged, ice-covered conditions.

“We gained enough information to make technical improvements to the equipment to better function in an oil-in-ice environment,” said Mangoni.

These new tools and techniques have potential applications not only in the Great Lakes, but in any location that oil or other pollutants may spill into a frozen environment., including New England and the Arctic.

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