A small boat checks to see how well one of the containment booms is holding up at the spill response exercise on Buffalo Lake June 21. Photo by Jordie Dwyer

Buffalo Lake site of spill response exercise

Simulation event part of helping train and familiarize industry, other partners

Only through training and being familiar with what to do can one perform a job in a thorough and efficient manner.

That’s why a total of 52 industry partners joined with emergency responders from the Bashaw area in a day-long event June 21 designed to help participants practice responding to a spill in Buffalo Lake.

The exercise, which included a morning in a classroom followed by a practical portion on the lake that afternoon, was organized by Western Canadian Spill Services (WCSS) — a non-profit corporation started in 1972 by upstream petroleum companies. WCSS provides spill response services and preparedness training for 18 separate cooperatives in B.C. and Alberta.

“The day was designed to build awareness about WCSS and what it means to be part of the cooperative,” stated Shannon Jarrell, WCSS communications and training coordinator.

“As well, attendees gained familiarity with the response equipment typically used in a lake environment.”

Jarrell added the lake exercise is part of a five-year training cycle for each one of the co-ops.

“In some cases, this is the only training that some people will get before being exposed to a spill,” she said, noting most people working on a spill should know what to do before one happens.

“That is why these exercises are incredibly important to ensure continued awareness, but they are not designed to create experts in one day.”

The event went well, with nearly two-thirds of co-op members in the region participating, and the weather holding up in spite of the large wind storm the previous night and the threat of rain that day.

Jarrell stated the turnout was nice to see given the time of year, vacations being taken and companies busy with production.

She also agreed that these kind of training exercises is one of the great examples of what industry does to comply with regulatory requirements and ensure they are being environmentally responsible, something the most of the general public isn’t aware of.

“WCSS has seven employees and about 75 volunteers, who sit on a steering committee plus act as equipment custodians and even respond to spills. This is a system that is specifically for industry, designed by industry,” she added.

Special equipment WCSS has includes jet and air boats, a fast water boom, an inflatable lake boom, skimming equipment as well as wildlife response and winter trailers.

As for those taking part, the consensus was that — while the lake was really practical — an exercise in a wetland would be more realistic and beneficial due to the amount of those types of areas many of the participants may have to deal with in a spill.


Participants stand near a staging area awaiting to be assigned to various roles for the spill response simulation, which was part of a day-long exercise at Buffalo Lake on June 21. Photo by Jordie Dwyer