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Identifying Sensitive Environments in the Path of an Oil Spill

Posted on Mon, Oct 17, 2011

While oil spills can effect the immediate area, migrating spills that extend beyond its containment measures can greatly affect the surrounding areas and possibly damage sensitive environments. A critical step in protecting sensitive resources is identifying the presence and types of resources that are in the likely path of an oil spill.

Analyzing possible spill trajectories through topographical features, wind speeds, and water flow rates allows planners to identify which areas are most likely to be impacted by a spill.  Once these resources have been identified, decisions need to be made as to the proper protection techniques for each locale and the priority for application of resources to each sensitive site.

Sensitive_Environments_TRP.jpgTypes of sensitive areas to evaluate include, but are not limited to:

  • Ecological: Examples of sensitive species include shore birds and other water fowl, seals and other marine mammals, shellfish, commercially important wildlife, and species with limited distribution or populations. Sensitive habitats range from protected bays with marshes and tidal flats to open coast areas used as marine mammal or bird breeding sites.
  • Cultural: Areas of direct importance to humans including, but not limited to native lands, historical land marks, waterfront parks, and recreational areas.
  • Economical: Populated areas that are highly valued because of their ability to generate income. Area’s include tourist sites, real estate developments, urban developments, marinas, parks and other locations.
  • Specific sensitive resources: Specific resources that are only available at that particular location, such as specialized suppliers, water sources, transportation systems, food sources.

Once the sensitive areas in the path of a potential oil spill are identified, tactical plans and processes should be developed to limit the duration of impact. Tactical planning provide site-specific focus to emergency response plans, and applies a response perspective with specific, short-term actions and responses. These plans provide details that allow responders to best access, assess, and quickly respond to off-site spills, limiting the effects of a spill on sensitive environments.


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Tags: USCG, Pipeline, OSHA HAZWOPER, Emergency Preparedness, SPCC, OPA 90, Oil Spill, Emergency Management Program, HAZWOPER