IMCMEX is a multinational, defense-based military exercise aimed to address and counter threats in the maritime environment. Industry operates a crucial energy trade and 30% of the world’s crude flows through the 5th Fleet area of responsibility. So how could military and industry combining efforts be good for the environment? Teamwork of course.
Emerging and established economies the world over have an energy dependency on fossil fuels, some less than others, but the fact remains that with such a large demand these energy sources must be carried in large volumes to help keep operating and transport costs low. Nearly 1/3 of all energy consumed comes from oil or refined oil products, and in 2012 reached 88 million barrels per day (1 barrel = 42 U.S. gallons). With all of this oil being pulled from the ground, all over the world, and transported to the countries that require it, there are remarkably few accidents, spills or explosions throughout the process.
Many would say that even one incident a year, a decade is disastrous to the environment, and they would be right. Though an industrial scale accident, or losing a supertanker to a mine or similar attack, would affect oil prices somewhat; the price of one tanker (aprox. $120M ship + $55M in oil) is relatively inconsequential to the global oil trade (aprox. $9bn/day). The environment is not so lucky.
The international shipping community has significantly reduced the number of marine spills over the last decade. Even with this dramatic reduction the prevention of these events must remain a priority. One tanker full of oil can be devastating to coastal and marine wildlife in the short-term, and can change entire ecosystems if not addressed and rectified. There can be many contributors to a spill, be it accidental, malfunction or an act of violence; and several can be prevented. This is why industry training with global militaries is good for the environment.
A significant portion of IMCMEX 13’s agenda is focused on maritime security operations, to include a commercial shipping escort through a simulated mine field. While mines are not the only form of attack these merchant ships are vulnerable to (waterborne IEDs, explosive laden small boats, piracy, etc.), it is a demonstration of the preventable disaster that would adversely affect the environment. Similar events are being held at offshore oil stations as part of a maritime infrastructure protection focus against violent extremists damaging or controlling important infrastructure in the region.
It is far easier to prevent an environmental disaster than to clean it up, and the Oil Spill Response Seminar and table-top exercise during IMCMEX was designed to address protection and prevention concerns, and how to mobilize an effective response to an oil spill should prevention efforts fail.
Alex Walker, a representative of industry for the exercise, led the Oil Spill Response discussion. During the multiple presentations, agencies like a UK-based Oil Spill Service Center based, Navy Coordination and Guidance At Sea and the Maritime Liaison Office; leaders covered international policy, safety of life at sea, communication challenges between militaries, agencies and industry, and what mariners can do at each level of the problem to preserve life and minimize the effects that a damaged crude carrier would have on the environment and other shipping.
Walker went on to comment during an interview that any response effort is about the safety of people and the environment. “The Navy has always taken environmental concerns very seriously,” Walker said. “This forum gives us the opportunity to explore that aspect in more detail.”
Oil spills are complicated. Their behavior relies on surface tension of the oil product, specific gravity of the product, the viscosity and multiple environmental factors (an overview of behavior and effects). To make things harder, oil characteristics and environmental factors dictate what response options would be most effective in treating the crisis (a simple interactive guide). These responses take a great deal of cooperation and coordination and Oil Spill Response discussions like in IMCMEX 13 are crucial to an effective, international, military and industry combined response.
While safety of mariners is paramount, concern for how we are affecting the environment is ever-present.
More information about oil spill response is available via the U.S. EPA and NOAA response pages, as well as International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation and many other pages.