Coast Guardsmen and partner organizations practice oil spill cleanup in the Gastineau Channel near Sandy Beach on May 11. 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Coast Guardsmen and partner organizations practice oil spill cleanup in the Gastineau Channel near Sandy Beach on May 11. 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

A well-oiled routine: Oil spill responders train in Gastineau Channel

Residents of the Savikko Park area might have been perplexed to see boats with oil booms swanning about near Douglas Harbor on Tuesday morning.

The Coast Guard held their first large-scale oil spill response exercise after a year of being limited by pandemic conditions, choosing the Gastineau Channel off Sandy Beach as their training ground, said Lt. Maren Balke, who organized the exercise.

“Over the year, we have gained new responders with little experience while losing others from transfer to other units and departments, and we had a knowledge gap that we needed to close,” Balke said in an email. “This is also a great opportunity to develop any tactics locally for our unique environment, something that we have never done before.”

The exercise was held with Coast Guardsmen from sectors Juneau and Ketchikan. Partners, including the Southeast Alaska Petroleum Response Organization, Global Dive and Salvage, Petro Marine and Delta Western also participated in the training or contributed vessels. Much of the muscle for clean up efforts in Alaska is concentrated in Juneau, making it a logical place for a training exercise, Balke said.

[New D17 commander awards aircrew for November rescue]

“This helped everyone maintain their familiarity with the equipment as well as understand how it interacts in the environment under strain,” Balke said. “These kinds of tactics need to be practiced regularly, otherwise you lose proficiency.”

Live operations are funded by the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, created after the Exxon Valdez disaster, Balke said. The Coast Guard has more than 100 strategies for spills across a broad range of conditions, Balke said.

“We have over 100 Geographic Response Strategies that the Coast Guard and the State use and are responsible for keeping current, in order to ensure their efficacy in a real world scenario,” Balke said. “Typically, when we get together at this scale we are exercising one of those GRS to determine its functionality when actually deployed and make any changes necessary. We are planning to still have one of those later this year, but we wanted to do this to shake off the rust of the past year.”

Happily, Balke said, the need for the large-scale training like that practiced today rarely arises.

“Fortunately, it’s not that often,” Balke said. “We have needed to deploy oil spill containment tactics when there has been a sunken vessel, but we rarely employ deflection booming like we were exercising today.”

About 35 personnel from the Coast Guard and other partner organizations spread across eight vessels participated on

Tuesday, Balke said.

“The exercise went great. I couldn’t have asked for a better crew to work with on this project,” Balke said. “We all came away from this with increased knowledge and comfort with the equipment and tactics.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

Coast Guardsmen and partner organizations practice oil spill cleanup in the Gastineau Channel near Sandy Beach on May 11. 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Coast Guardsmen and partner organizations practice oil spill cleanup in the Gastineau Channel near Sandy Beach on May 11. 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 22

Here’s what to expect this week.

Participants in a pro-choice abortion rally gather outside the Governor’s Residence on Saturday to demand a pro-life flag flying at the entrance be taken down. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Pro-choice abortion protesters march to Governor’s Residence to demand removal of pro-life flag

Rally on second anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision also focuses on fall election.

Eddie Petrie shovels gravel into a mine cart as fast as possible during the men’s hand mucking competition as part of Juneau Gold Rush Days on Saturday at Savikko Park. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Mucking, trucking, chucking and yukking it up at Juneau Gold Rush Days

Logging competitions, live music, other events continue Sunday at Savikko Park.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, June 20, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Pins supporting the repeal of ranked choice voting are seen on April 20 at the Republican state convention in Anchorage. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
State judge upholds most fines against group seeking repeal of Alaska ranked choice voting

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has ruled that opponents of Alaska’s ranked… Continue reading

Joshua Midgett and Kelsey Bryce Riker appear on stage as the emcees for MixCast 2023 at the Crystal Saloon. (Photo courtesy Juneau Ghost Light Theatre)
And now for someone completely different: Familiar faces show new personas at annual MixCast cabaret

Fundraiser for Juneau Ghost Light Theatre on Saturday taking place amidst week of local Pride events

Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire
A section of Angoon along the coast is seen on June 14. Angoon was destroyed by the U.S. Navy in 1882; here is where they first pulled up to shore.
Long-awaited U.S. Navy apology for 1882 bombardment will bring healing to Angoon

“How many times has our government apologized to any American Native group?”

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon announced this week she plans to seek a third three-year term. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Mayor Beth Weldon seeking third term amidst personal and political challenges

Low mill rate, more housing cited by lifelong Juneau resident as achievements during past term.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, June 19, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read