Feedback from oil spill exercise suggests improvements to be made

A report on a major oil spill exercise carried out off Shetland has outlined several recommendations aimed at improving the way UK authorities would respond to a real disaster.

Exercise Sula, which took place 86 miles off the west coast of Shetland over two days in May, tested the UK’s response to a large spill stemming from an offshore drilling incident within the UK continental shelf.

It followed the Gulf of Mexico spill in April last year, when an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig resulted in a huge oil leak.

Exercise Sula was the first national exercise to incorporate all aspects of the country’s National Contingency Plan for marine pollution from shipping and offshore installations (NCP).

The 200 participants included representatives of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the department of energy and climate change (DECC).

Their work, and the efforts of around 10 other groups involved in the exercise, were monitored by a group of industry and environmental experts and their report has now been published.

Introducing the document, Philip Naylor, director of maritime services at the MCA, and Wendy Kennedy, of DECC, said: “The exercise demonstrated that the UK has highly professional and dedicated personnel who can respond effectively.

“As could be expected with any well-planned and tested scenario, the exercise highlighted some areas for improvement and identified a number of learning points which can be directly applied in future.”

The report stated that, while the UK’s regulatory regime was “already among the most robust in the world”, it was important to learn everything possible from the Gulf of Mexico incident.

It said: “The most salient learning point from the exercise was the need to ensure that all responders are clear about their overall roles and responsibilities, and that these are clearly defined within the NCP.”


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