SANDRA M STANWAY
An emulsion leak from a Torxen Oil & Gas site north of Rolling Hills Reservoir on Highway 873 resulted in 1,000 square feet of oil on the water.
That was the company’s scenario during its triennial mock disaster on Sept. 26 which involved calling out the company’s emergency response trailer. First responders were on site as the scenario began.
The alarm was triggered shortly before 9 a.m. A staff member was onsite in four minutes to react and respond and everything was under control in under an hour.
“He had no idea what was going on. He was just responding to the alarm while he was doing his daily check,” said Brent Van Ham, senior operator at Torxen Oil & Gas.
Although it seems simple enough to turn off a tap at a distant location staff found the valve had malfunctioned which was the first of a few curve balls that were tossed into the disaster.
Other planned curves included an angry fisherman and a reporter both wanting answers while a relatively unplanned curve ball was the Highway 873 road construction workers.
When the scenario was set up the road crew wasn’t scheduled to be in the area near the plant, however, having them there added another layer.
“It brought a different public awareness to the exercise where we are concerned about the road construction crew. Working around that and being engaged with them was a really good learning for us,” he said.
Because it was just a scenario Torxen did not want to stop the road work, so dust was blowing and truck back up alerts were sounding which made it difficult for staff to communicate at times.
Added into the scenario at that last minute was having a member of the road crew demand to know his staff’s safety and as well as delay.
“It was a really good twist,” said Van Ham.
The crew had been made aware of the scenario the day before the event which helped them to think of their own protocols.
The majority of staff on the ground had been kept in the dark about the event so when the call of a spill came it was as somewhat of a surprise.
“They (staff) know that we do these exercises every three years as per regulation and they knew we were coming up on three years so they knew something was going to happen at some time this year,” said Van Ham.
“They probably were getting a sense that it was coming up but they wouldn’t have any idea what the scenario was,” he said.
The reasoning behind such a program is if there was a real situation the practice will help staff control the situation.
Keeping current with safety practices, communications and technologies are just some of the reasons oil and gas companies continuously hold mock disasters.
“We need to always be ready. Emergencies aren’t planned events. The more we can exercise and do these communication exercises, the more prepared we will be.”
He said overall the scenario went well. The company hit all of the their objectives that had been set out during planning and were successful in engaging all levels of their emergency response plan.
“Probably one of the takeaways is maintaining our readiness both personally and our equipment. It was an alarm that triggered our entire exercise.”