Marine oil spills represent a major environmental disaster. They can cause significant damage to ecosystems, along with socioeconomic and cultural resources. The impacts of marine oil spills are not limited to the immediate vicinity of the spill, but can be felt across the globe.

As the threat from potential oil spill hot spots in the ATS region looms, it is important to increase the awareness of stakeholders regarding this issue, so they are better prepared and more able to plan effectively in case the worst happens. Ignorance of the threat that oil spills pose may well lead to underestimation of the risks involved, ultimately resulting in the inadequacy of mitigation measures and leaving the ATS region vulnerable to damage from an oil spill event.

To better understand the risks and how to deal with them, the ATSEA-2 Project has completed a regional analysis of marine and land-based pollution hotspots in the ATS. This study reveals that the ATS is highly productive and rich in resources, but it also highly vulnerable to oil spills, due to the expansive oil and gas exploitation that occurs in the region, especially in the Timor Sea. The level of response and preparedness for oil spills varies significantly between countries, with Australia being the most progressive, compared to the other three countries, namely Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste.

On 24 February 2022, ATSEA-2 hosted a webinar entitled Causes, Fates and Impacts of Marine Oil Spills, presented in collaboration with Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL). The webinar was attended by a total of 76 participants from Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Uruguay and Nigeria.

“The collaboration between ATSEA-2 and OSRL is [intended] to foster information sharing and build the capacity of ATS stakeholders regarding oil spill preparedness and response,” said Dr. Handoko Adi Susanto, who is the ATSEA-2 Regional Project Manager, during his opening remarks in the webinar. β€œTo fully realise the information sharing, topics must progress from awareness of oil spill impacts, to understanding oil spill risks and what it takes to respond to oil spills effectively,” he added.

The webinar was facilitated by Mr. Norman Lorica Ramos from OSRL, along with speakers Mr. Yow Lih Hern and Ms. Shahreena Shahnavas from OSRL. Mr. Yow Lih Hern talked about the major causes of marine oil spills, with regards to exploration, production and shipping. Statistics were shared to provide a general sense of how these factors contribute to the overall impact of marine oil spills. Furthermore, he provided potential causes within the context of ATS. He finished his session by linking the weathering of oil to how it can dictate the choice of response strategies.

Ms. Shahreena Shahnavas elaborated on the impacts brought about by marine oil spills. These were separated into two major categories – environmental and socioeconomic. The ATS region is recognised as both a productive marine ecosystem and a provider of socioeconomic benefits to the people utilising its resources, hence the two primary impact categories. Moreover, Ms. Shahnavas correlated the fate of oil spilled in marine environments with the likely impacts it will create; sensitivity maps were introduced, as a tool to convey information on sites of environmental and socioeconomic importance. This tool could potentially assist in holistic decision making for the prioritisation of important sites in a marine oil spill event. The Strategic Oil Spill Vulnerability Map of coastal areas of Rote Barat Daya was presented as an example of such a sensitivity map.

Since February 2021, the ATSEA-2 Project has been engaging with OSRL to identify areas of possible collaboration and regional exchange in support of ATSEA-2’s target to address marine and land-based pollution in the ATS region. This is the first of four technical webinars scheduled for the coming year.

(by Casandra Tania)

This article was published on www.oilspillresponse.com