Perspectives of Boom Failure – Deprogramming What Doesn’t Work

As we’ve said many times, “you don’t know what you don’t know until you understand it” – there is no exception for those who provide oil spill response training. In this post we’ll show why spill training, no matter how well intentioned, should be done by those who know and understand spill response.

There are many past and current examples of well-meaning individuals who provide training but it’s based on the same flawed thinking that has been around for decades. Changing that requires all the wrong ways to be “deprogramed” before the right way can be learned. It also requires an acknowledgement that experience is not competence. Experience doing something incorrect for years is just that – experience doing something incorrect. Understanding and competence, on the other hand is having the ability to know how and why something works (understanding) and having the ability to do it well (competence).

Oil spill training as we’ve previously addressed consists of information that has been copied and pasted for decades without any verification or authentication that what is presented actually works. We have shown nearly every tactics manual, training manual, website and other resources are simply wrong and have shown mathematically and scientifically why they are wrong and what we should be doing instead. Yet, in 2017 a major challenge to the response industry is replacing “experience” and repeating what hasn’t worked with “competence” and what is proven and effective.

We have long promoted using math and science to improve oil spill planning and response in order to save time, money and impact. However, everyone must understand that math and science are just the beginning; once the calculations are understood, you’ll see the calculations in many cases actually provide the proper deployment tactic. So before continuing, understand this: without calculations you can’t talk about tactics and without tactics you can’t talk about calculations. Both are required for effective countermeasure deployment whether it’s booming, damming, recovery, vectoring, anchoring or other planning and response issues.

When it comes to effective boom deployment (or any other skill), recognize that learning HOW to effectively deploy boom is exactly the same as learning HOW NOTto effectively deploy boom.

That deserves repeating: learning HOW to effectively deploy boom is exactly the same as learning HOW NOT to effectively deploy boom. Whatever is presented – whether or not it is valid or correct – is exactly what will be learned and is how responders will act when the time comes to respond to an oil spill.

Take a look at the photograph headlining this post of a recent booming class. What do you see? Are boom angles correct? What about the catenary angles? How does the anchor look? If this were an actual spill, would oil be effectively contained? The overlays showing the deployed booming angles, catenary angles and more are shown in the photograph with discussion following the photograph.

Blue Lines: deployed booming angle
Red Lines: Catenary angle of 90° and oil / boom encounter angle of 90°
Yellow Arrow: Simulated oil accumulation


The deployed booming angle (blue line) is incorrect as shown; the booming angle is approximately 55° (upstream) and approximately 60° (downstream). No boom should be deployed greater than 45°, regardless of current speed. Doing so causes boom to “belly” in mid-stream where the oil will collect making collection difficult or impossible (as shown in the photograph). Additionally, entrainment of oil is likely. By angling the boom into the current, the oil will move to the shoreline for collection. Various effective booming angles are provided for various current speeds: 0.5 knot = 45°; 1.0 knot = 29°; 1.5 knot = 19°; 2 knots = 14° (all angles rounded down)
When deployed, boom angles should be as flat as possible with minimal catenary from the downstream anchor, upstream. The catenary oil/boom encounter angle is approximately 90°, virtually guaranteeing entrainment and a lack of containment
The nearshore boom end anchor is not “keyed” into the shoreline causing the boom to lay flat along the shoreline until the river depth becomes sufficiently deep enough to support the booms floatation allowing the boom to properly float in the river
The simulated oil – shown by the yellow arrow – is in belly of the boom, away from the shoreline and inaccessible to the deployed skimmer
Finally, look at how many people are attending this training…it’s that many more people who think they know how to boom after attending this class, but in fact now know how NOT to boom effectively


Knowing is not understanding. There is a great difference between knowing and understanding: you can know a lot about something and not really understand it.” – Charles Kettering

There is more to successful and effective boom deployment than just simply putting boom in the water. It requires understanding and skill to know where to boom and how to get the boom deployed to be effective at containing oil for recovery. There are countless examples of training, tactics manuals, conference presentations and more of incorrect and outdated information being presented without validation that it will work. Instead, things get repeated over and over for years and are assumed to be valid, but no proof is presented.

So long as unqualified but otherwise well-meaning individuals continue provide training on topics they don’t understand, the job of “deprogramming” what we’ve learned and that doesn’t work (or is supported by math or science) will make understanding and learning effective tactics and techniques even more difficult. As we’ve said many times before, if countermeasures aren’t deployed right the first time, it’s likely there won’t be time or resources to deploy them again. Understanding and applying proper and effective tactics and techniques based in sound math and science and not rehashing what hasn’t worked for decades is critical to saving time, money and impact.

For additional information or comments, please email us at [email protected] or call 740.815.9660. This article was first published in LinkedIn.

About the Author

Joel Hogue is president of Elemental Services and Consulting, Inc. Established in 2003, ESCO develops oil spill Tactical Response Plans – including equipment specification, response tactics and job aid development. Mr. Hogue’s company also provides oil spill equipment design and testing as well as training and education on effective response tactics and techniques.

Prior to establishing ESCO, Mr. Hogue held senior management positions with several environmental firms establishing successful spill response divisions within those companies. He has made numerous conference presentations as well as has taught various education and training classes throughout the U.S. and Canada.

ERIS to offer new features to assist in ESA Reporting

ERIS, a company specializing in providing critical risk and historical information on properties, recently announced four new product offerings.

ERIS Direct is a new online subscription service that provides real-time environmental risk information for properties throughout the US and Canada.

ERIS Xplorer is an interactive tool for overlaying and analyzing data and historical images.

Physical Setting Report (PSR) provides comprehensive information about the physical setting surrounding a site and includes a complete overview of topography and surface topology, in addition to hydrologic, geologic and soil characteristics. The location and detailed attributes of oil and gas wells, water wells, public water systems and radon are also included for review.

As of early July, ERIS began offering U.S. Tax Parcel Data through an Online Order Form. The addition of parcel data can assist with securing accurate property information and boundary delineation.

Call for Abstracts – RemTech 2017

Special BCEIA Organized Session at RemTech 2017

ESAA has invited the BCEIA to organize a special session at RemTech 2017 to be held in Banff, Alberta from October 11-13, 2017. BCEIA members are urged to submit technical abstracts focusing on environmental remediation research and application.

Abstracts are encouraged in, but not limited to, the following areas:

Physical/Biological/Chemical Treatment
Remote or Difficult Access Sites
Emerging Contaminants
Spill Response and Management
Landfill management and closure
All other remediation-related topics will be considered

Abstracts should be no longer that 500 words (not including bio) and should also include a presenter biography. Please submit as a Word Document to [email protected] by Friday, July 14. For more information, please contact Kate MacDonald at [email protected].

SABCS Conference on Contaminated Sites – September 28th

September 28, 2017 | Vancouver, BC

The Science Advisory Board for Contaminated Sites in British Columbia (SABCS) is pleased to announce the 7th annual Conference on Contaminated Sites. The emphasis of this year’s conference will be on practical applications of emerging science, research, development and technology in contaminated sites. Speakers will be drawn from industry, government and academia. For more information, please contact Zahra Pirani at [email protected].

CN Fined $2.5 million for diesel spill in Alberta

Canadian National Railway Company (CN) pleaded guilty, in the Provincial Court of Alberta, to one offence under the Fisheries Act and three offences under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. As a result, CN has been ordered to pay $2,500,000, which will be directed to the Environmental Damages Fund. An additional fine of $125,000 was levied on May 25, 2017 in relation to the provincial charges laid by Alberta Environment and Parks, under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act.

On April 9, 2015, Environment and Climate Change Canada enforcement officers responded to a report of an oil sheen on the North Saskatchewan River. With assistance from the City of Edmonton’s Drainage Services’ staff, Environment and Climate Change Canada officers traced the substance over eight kilometres through Edmonton’s storm drain system to an engine fuelling station at CN’s Bissell Yard.

A joint investigation with Alberta Environment and Parks determined that the oil-water separator and fuel storage system at Bissell Yard was not compliant with a number of requirements under the Storage Tank Systems for Petroleum and Allied Petroleum Products Regulations, which caused an estimated 90 litres of diesel to be released to the storm sewer. CN subsequently pleaded guilty, and it was sentenced for the following offences:

Deposit of a deleterious substance to fish-bearing water or to a place where it may enter fish-bearing water, in violation of the Fisheries Act, resulting in a $2,000,000 penalty;
Use of a centrifugal pump to transfer oil-contaminated water, in violation of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, resulting in a $150,000 penalty;
Failure to keep an emergency plan readily available, in violation of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, resulting in a $100,000 penalty;
Failure to withdraw and remove single-walled underground steel piping, in violation of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, resulting in a $250,000 penalty.
Release of a substance that may cause a significant adverse effect and failure to all reasonable measures to remediate after a release to the environment, in violation of the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, resulting in a $125,000 total penalty.
In addition, CN was ordered to remove over two kilometres of single-walled underground piping, at a cost of approximately $750,000.

As a result of this conviction, the company’s name will be added to the federal Environmental Offenders Registry.

The purpose of the Storage Tank Systems for Petroleum Products and Allied Petroleum Products Regulations is to reduce the risk of contaminating soil and water (surface and groundwater) due to spills and leaks of petroleum products from storage tank systems.

U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to hear Pollution Case against Chevron

The U.S. Supreme Court recently made the decision not to hear the case against the Chevron Oil Company made by villagers in Ecuador that claim the company is evading the payment of $8.65 billion (U.S.) for a pollution judgement against it in that country.

The Supreme Court turned away an appeal by U.S. based lawyers for the Ecuador villagers that have spent more than two decades trying to hold Chevron responsible for pollution in that country.

Chevron, in its defence, did not dispute that pollution occurred but claimed it was not liable for it. According to a news report in Reuters, the company claims that the environmental report was biased and the presiding judge in the case in Ecuador was bribed. Chevron’s claim is backed up by lower court rulings in the United States. In 2014, a U.S. District Court Judge barred enforcement of the ruling made in Ecuador citing the corruption used to obtain it. A similar ruling was made by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Contamination of the soil and water of the Ecuador rain forest was caused by Texaco when it operated in the country between 1964 and 1992. The villagers claim that Texaco dumped billions of litres of toxic oil-drilling waters into hundreds of open-air pits. Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001. Prior to acquiring Texaco, Chevron signed an agreement in 1998 with the Ecuador government absolving it of any further liability.

The lawyers for Ecuador villagers vow that they will seek a court ruling in Canada. However, a January 2017 ruling by the Ontario superior court ruled that Chevron’s Canadian arm isn’t a party to the Ecuadorian court decision. The lawyers for the Ecuador villagers are appealing the decision.

City of Calgary pushes for control of Contaminated Sites

As reported by the CBC, the City of Calgary, Alberta is negotiating with the Canadian federal government for new powers that will give it more say over contaminated land within its borders. The City of Calgary is currently managing 34 contaminated sites within its borders. It has set aside a pool of $2.8 million for monitoring and clean-up of the sites. Additional monies have also been set aside for closure of existing landfills and as well as millions more earmarked for the clean-up of Old Refinery Park (the site of an oil refinery that operated from 1926 to 1976.

Besides the 34 contaminated sites managed by the municipality, the federal government is responsible for 13 contaminated sites, and there are undetermined number that are the responsibility of private landowners.

Commenting on the number of contaminating sites within the City of Calgary, Trent Parks, the leader of environmental risk and liability at the city, told the CBC, “We only know ones we’ve found. It goes back to the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. There may be more out there, we haven’t come across them yet.”

The City wants the authority to inspect and order the clean-up of the contaminated sites it doesn’t own. It also wants to have the ability to clean-up the sites it has control over without the need for approval from the Province of Alberta. City officials want to change the rules on contaminated sites and have included it as part of ongoing negotiations with the Province for a new city charter for Calgary.

The mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, cites the example of the contaminated site that was formerly a gas station called Gas Plus and now under control of the Province. A 9,000 litre link from an underground storage tank at the gas station contaminated the soil and groundwater. The Province is just starting to clean-up of the site after seven years.

Without an environmental site assessment, there is no way of knowing if a property is contaminated or not. In most jurisdictions, if not all, it is the provincial government that can order a private landowner to conduct an ESA on a property but only if off-site migration of contamination is suspected and adverse health or environmental impacts are suspected.

In the CBC article, Christopher De Sousa, the director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson University in Toronto, stated it is fairly standard for municipalities not to have the power to order ESA’s. Even at the provincial level, Mr. De Sousa said that inventories of contaminated sites are focused on government owned properties only. “If they don’t own it, they’re not including it in that inventory,” he said.

“I would say a lot of jurisdictions are hesitant, historically, to inventory brownfields,” Mr. De Sousa said of industrial sites when asked by the CBC if it’s normally difficult to come up with hard numbers.

“The reason being, if a government identifies a site as potentially contaminated and they don’t own it, have they affected the value of that site?”

Mr. De Sousa only knew of one municipal jurisdiction in North America – New York City – that had the authority to order environmental investigations for contamination and clean-up. He said it can benefit a city to have more authority over the sites if they’re willing to look at it intelligently and strategically.

The Alberta government is going to release city charters for Calgary and in July, outlining expanded powers for the city on everything from contaminated sites to affordable housing to municipal tribunals for bylaw offences. It remains to be seen if the City will be granting the power of the control and management of contaminated sites it is seeking.



Annual Cost of Pollution on Canadians estimated at $5,700 per Family

A report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), an environmental non-government organization, estimates that pollution in Canada is costing the average Canadian family $5,700 (Cdn.) per year.  The report claims that negative impacts on health, forests, crops, land, and water quality can be quantified in terms of monetary loss.  The report, entitled “Costs of Pollution in Canada: Measuring the impacts on families, businesses, and governments”, found that pollution costs in 2015 in Canada totaled $52 billion (Cdn.).

The IISD estimated that smog was the biggest contributor to lost income and increased expenses to Canadians, contributing 92 percent of the total cost. The report also investigated the costs of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and their negative impacts on health; heatwaves; and management of contaminated sites, including former mines, factories and gas stations.

With respect to contaminated sites specifically, the report authors examined publically available information on the number of contaminated sites there are in Canada under federal jurisdiction and the costs of monitoring and cleaning up the sites. They found that between fiscal year 2005 and 2015, that the average annual federal expenditure on managing contaminated sites under federal government control to be $283 million. The authors note that this cost represents a lower bound on the total cost of managing contaminated sites in Canada as it does not include sites under provincial, municipal, or private ownership and control.

The report also examined the future costs of managing contaminated sites by federal and provincial/territorial governments. In 2015, the report stated that the total future liability for contaminated site clean-up recognized by the federal government was $5.8 billion. In addition, $6.4 billion in environmental liabilities were recognized by provincial governments.

The publication synthesized existing studies and explained that more research is needed to fill data gaps regarding costs related to: greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in terms of climate change and its impacts on the economy and the environment; heavy metals in terms of human health; and fertilizers and other nutrient runoff in terms of excessive growth of aquatic plants and algae.

Market Growth in Environmental Consulting seen Worldwide

According to preliminary findings from a market survey conducted by Environment Analyst, environmental consulting business managers reported average revenue growth of 2.6% for their businesses in 2016. Participants from larger environmental consulting firms provided an average response of some 5.3%, up from the slight decline in the same survey conducted last year.

Preliminary highlights from the survey include:

Global environmental consulting market trends

Revenue – average, unweighted global EC revenue growth for 2016 is stated at 5.3% for large firms, and 1.2% for small and medium-sized firms (with EC revenues less than than $15m/£10m/€13m).

Staff – the mean, unweighted increase in international environmental consultancy teams comes in at 3.4% for large firms, and 1.8% for small/medium practices.

Regions – in terms of five-year regional growth prospects, South East Asia & China is currently topping the list of regions (with an unweighted mean CAGR of 7.2%) followed by North America (6.8%). On Western Europe, consultants are less bullish about their prospects with mean forecast CAGR of 3.6%.

Services – these interim global market findings suggest that currently the highest growth is being seen in air quality services (7.8%, on average), followed by water quality & resource management (7.1%) and environmental management and compliance (6.9%).

Clients – currently the highest growth is being seen in the transport sector (9.9%, on average), followed by renewable energy and chemical & pharmaceutical (both 8.2%).

Forecasts – in this interim survey, the general consensus of expectations for the future remains healthy, with annual growth in global EC revenue expected to rise year-on-year from 3.1% in 2016 to 4.5% in 2017 and further to 6.3% in 2018.

Environment Analyst is encouraging readers to participate in the survey before it closes at the end of the month. All participants receive a complimentary summary of the full survey results, a summary of EA’s Annual Market Assessment and a free job advert on the Environment Analyst website. Read the full summary article here | Start the survey here

Hazmat Response and Confirmation of Chemical Identity

Civilian and military responders face scenarios ranging from intentional chemical attacks and accidental hazardous material (HAZMAT) releases to natural disasters and environmental monitoring or remediation efforts. Responders step on-scene with a diverse toolkit –sometimes small and other times extensive. It is critical to stay familiar with the equipment in the kit, because no single chemical detection tool can provide answers for every scenario.

Colorimetric test kits are one of the most commonly used technologies for quickly collecting presumptive information about a chemical. They are used to determine if a threat is present and determine its chemical class. This information is important, but knowing the exact identity of a chemical can inform a safer response. True chemical identity can provide information to responders and law enforcement officials beyond the initial threat, and lead to further discoveries to further safeguard the public.

While some detectors only indicate the presence of a chemical, others specifically detect hazards in the presence of a complex chemical background, like a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (GC/MS). GC/MS is an incredibly sensitive and highly specific tool commonly used in laboratory environments. It can sense trace level chemicals other equipment can’t, while also providing the ability to positively identify the chemical. But chemical emergencies don’t just happen in laboratories –they can happen anywhere.

Real-time chemical detection and identification in the field is critical to the CBRNE or HAZMAT response mission. Confirmatory chemical identification enables responders to mitigate a threat and protect people and the environment from harm.

The most challenging aspects of taking gold-standard technology like GC/MS into the field is survivability in harsh environments and ease of use. Significant technological advancements have led to the development of the FLIR Griffin G510 person-portable GC/MS system. Its lab-quality detection performance, simple-to-use interface, and rugged construction are ideal for high-consequence response missions.

Response missions take place in complex environments that the GC/MS must withstand. The Griffin G510 is completely self-contained in a 36-pound device, including batteries, carrier gas, vacuum system, injector, and heated sample probe. It is also the first IP65-rated portable GC/MS. This means it’s dust-tight and spray-resistant, which adds flexibility to decontamination procedures. There is no 40-pound external service module like other portable GC/MS systems and no 20-pound external pump under the bench like those seen in a laboratory. Batteries last up to four hours and are hot swappable, should the mission extend longer than expected, which eliminates the need for a power generator. The Griffin G510 is designed from the ground up to operate outside of the lab.

Hazmat technicians will dive into using the features that deliver lab-quality analysis. First on-scene operators will appreciate that they don’t need a Ph.D. to use it. Basic operator training is completed in only two hours, while expert training can be completed in a single day.

The user interface truly sets it apart from other portable GC/MS systems. It’s streamlined design and guided controls help the user select the mode of operation. First responders must perform quickly and with limited dexterity when wearing required PPE. They are responsible for sample and data collection, and in some cases, real-time decision making. The G510 alerts the operator with visual alarm confirmation both on the handheld probe, as well as the on-board 9” touchscreen. The large touchscreen can be operated by a responder while wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE).

Hazmat responders can use the Griffin G510 to analyze all phases of matter (solid, liquid, gas). Its integrated survey mode capability identifies vapor-phase chemical threats within seconds. Its integrated split/splitless liquid injector enables responders to perform direct injection of organic liquids –an industry first. This same injector also accepts other sampling tools, including solid-phase micro-extraction (SPME), off-the-shelf headspace analyzers, and the Prepless Sample Introduction (PSI) Probe. The PSI-Probe directly accepts solid samples in their native form (such as soil and water-based materials). The Griffin G510 reduces the burden of sample preparation for the operator and provides ultimate flexibility as the daily mission changes. Hazardous environments demand the ultimate toolbox include confirmatory instrumentation like GC/MS. The Griffin G510 portable GC/MS redefines performance, ease of use, and value for the responder toolkit.