Chainsaws and auger drills operated and attended to by Minot Fire Department firefighters and Enbridge personnel were loudly cutting into the ice on the Souris River Wednesday morning along Minot's Roosevelt Park in preparation for possible disaster.
It's one of many training exercises employed by Enbridge North Dakota to assure the training and experience is already there for their own employees and for local first responder units all along their pipeline system should there be a problem in the pipeline and an oil spill occurs.
"This is our primary winter response activity," said Art Haskins, the emergency responce coordinator for Enbridge North Dakota.
Enbridge personnel and Minot Fire Department firefighters recover a slab of ice from the Souris River along Roosevelt Park in Minot Wednesday morning.
Enbridge personnel and Minot Fire
Department firefighters drill overlapping auger holes to form a plywood barricade to direct oil out from under the ice should an oilspill trap ice there.
Photos by Flint McColgan/MDN
While a spill could occur anywhere should the heavily reinforced pipelines encounter problems, waterways provide additional problems for responders to clean up.
"What we're primarily practicing today is if oil is released underneath the ice," he said. "It floats on water so it will float right below the surface of the ice. What we do is cut an ice slot at an angle across the current and then the oil will flow into that slot down toward the sump end where we can recover the product."
On the ice that day, teams wearing heavy safety equipment including cleated shoes, life-vests, hard-hats and other protective gear practiced the two techniques used by responders to get that ice out of the water. One is to cut a slot at an angle against the current using a 36-inch chainsaw against the ice, which happened to be two feet thick on the water that day, or using auger drills to create overlapping plywood partitions that can direct oil to a designated recovery area.
"When we put the plywood in there we overlap them by about six to eight inches so there's no breaks in the plywood and it forms a nice, continuous flow pattern for the oil to go down there," Haskins said. "It's similar to what we do in the summertime with a boom that floats on top of the water but we can't, obviously, put floatable boom inside the ice so you have to come up with some other way to direct that oil."
Haskins said that preparation for spill response is way down the list of emergency preparedness, because it all starts with ensuring the initial pipeline design is as safe and risk free as possible.
"We have a huge integrity program to make sure the pipe is safe. We have overflight, we have pressure monitoring, we have inline inspection tools. We put a lot of effort into initial construction of the pipe, a lot of effort into making sure nothing happens, then we use a lot of time on preparation," he said. "So, instead of a command structure system we train our operations guys, we train first responders along our pipeline and we work together and exercise to prepare to recover this product if necessary."
The training given to local first responder units, which included those in Grand Forks earlier in the winter and those in the Lake Sakakawea area of the Missouri River in two weeks, isn't just for pipeline leak protection, though. The training can come in handy for more local troubles, too.
"For the fire department, it's a technique that can be used if a semi or a train truck or some other sort of tanker went under the ice and released product, that would also stay under the ice and they would be able to use this same technique to recover that oil," Haskins said.