Deepwater Horizon

Members of MPRS were part of the international team that responded to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which threatened the South-Eastern coastline of North America.
a group of people are working on a sandy beach with tents and quad bikes in the background.
Maritime NZ
Beach clean-up in Mobile, Alabama.

Ten MNZ oil spill response experts and four members of the National Response Team (NRT) travelled to the Gulf of Mexico to assist in the clean-up, at the request of their US colleagues.

MNZ General Manager of Monitoring and Response, Bruce Anderson, says a review of lessons learnt from the Gulf of Mexico shows New Zealand’s Marine Pollution Response Service (MPRS) is well prepared. However, we need to consider how New Zealand would handle a large-scale event such as the BP pipeline leak.

“We can be justifiably proud of the skills and expertise of our oil spill response team, not only within MPRS and the wider MNZ community, but also with the 400 trained and qualified personnel on standby throughout New Zealand,” says Bruce.

While no oil facilities in New Zealand waters have the same pressures and oil characteristics as BP’s Deepwater Horizon platform, Bruce points out the exploration activities currently underway and the potential of areas such as the Deep South Basin to end up with similar rigs.

The resources and processes in place in New Zealand are focused mainly on local and regional emergency responses, and Bruce says some attention could be refocused on the potential for a Tier 3, or nationally significant, pollution event.

A view looking out the back of a plane that's flying low over the ocean while spraying out dispersants.
Maritime NZ
Dispersant was applied to an area of the spill.

“Continued critical assessments are required of all aspects of New Zealand’s oil response preparedness, with a view to ensuring the plans we have in place for a major incident within New Zealand’s waters remain current, robust and realisable,” says Bruce.

New Zealand has relationships and agreements in place to quickly call on international assistance in the event of a major disaster, which puts the country in a position to respond effectively in any situation.

The US experience showed that the sheer volume of information created by a major response scenario needed dedicated systems to manage it. Long-term demands on MPRS professionals, such as was the case in the Deepwater Horizon response, would also test the capacity of the personnel and resources dealing with it.

“If it is going to be a long-term response, we should try to stagger the skilled staff in shifts. Those skilled people could become ‘roving advisors’, giving a type of on-the-scene training to those in the front line with fewer skills,” Bruce says.

The main lesson from the US disaster for New Zealand is in managing the massive pressure that comes from an event of such proportions. Bruce says expectations and logistics have to be carefully monitored and controlled to maximise the effect of the resources deployed.

“Another key to the success of an operation is to have an educated public before the incident, rather than having to try to educate them during it,” he says.