PORTSMOUTH, Va.— Members from the U.S. Coast Guard, Colonial Pipeline Company, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Hampton Roads Maritime Incident Response Team and multiple port partners completed a pollution exercise on the lower James River Wednesday to test their response capabilities in case of an actual spill.
More than 260 people from 30 different companies plus local, state and federal agencies participated in the exercise, which simulated a discharge of 200,000 gallons of diesel fuel from an underground pipeline into the James River near Hog Island.
Contractors and marine and hazardous material units from nearby local fire departments deployed 2,500 feet of containment boom as practice in two shoreline areas near the Hog Island Wildlife Management Area in Surry County. The boom acts as a barrier that would protect the shoreline from any actual contamination.
Exercise participants also established a command post in the Newport News Omni Hotel to perform the command and control functions associated with a pollution response, including logistics, planning and operations. Representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, Colonial Pipeline Company and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality functioned as Incident Commanders.
“The time to get to know the people you would be working with during cleanup operations is not during an actual spill,” explained U.S. Coast Guard Capt. John Little, commander of Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads. “An exercise like this provides us an opportunity to meet our counterparts in other agencies and in private industry ahead of time and to practice working together in case of an emergency.”
Wednesday’s full-scale simulation met the requirements of an area exercise under the National Preparedness for Response Exercise Program guidelines. These events are scheduled every three years to test and to evaluate the federal government’s Area Contingency Plan and the state’s Emergency Operations Plan.
Colonial Pipeline volunteered to be the exercise sponsor this year.
“Exercises like this are as important as the maintenance and other work we do to protect our pipeline so that accidents never happen,” said Doug Belden, vice president of Operations, Colonial Pipeline Company. “But should one occur, it is agencies like the U.S. Coast Guard, the Commonwealth of Virginia and regional emergency response services taking part in this drill that will help ensure the public’s safety and the environment are protected and preserved.”