Ice and oil: Coast Guard trains to deal with both

New technology helps answer how oil will be skimmed from icy waters

The United States Coast Guard has spent the last three days on the Great Lakes doing disaster training.

It focused on how to contain an oil spill in the winter time

We spent the day on the water and got a rare up close look at how the Coast Guard trains.

Itâ??s training that they don't get often. The Coast Guard is working with several different agencies to determine the best way to handle an oil spill in winter conditions.

"Oil spills don't pick the weather they spill in so we really need to be ready for all four seasons up here in the Great Lakes," says Coast Guard District Response Team Supervisor T.J. Mangoni.

Six to eight inch ice is forming beneath the Mackinac Bridge, smack dab in the middle of a major shipping channel. Aboard Coast Guard Cutter "Hollyhock," she has no problem breaking the ice as the crew prepares for worst case.

"Weâ??re still on the cutting edge you might say of learning new things and trying to improve on what we've done in the past in other environments and apply it to an ice environment," says LCDR Tim Brown, Captain of the Hollyhock.

In a disaster situation, it's all about a team effort. This training involves state-of-the-art oil skimming technology and how to use it to attack a problem. Peat moss simulates oil sheen.

"What they don't know is all the information on how do we get out to the oil, what it takes to mount this, and how many people it takes and the time it takes so that's the thing we're trying to iron out, the operational issues," says Kurt Hansen with the Coast Guard Oil Spill Response Research and Development.

In the next experiment, oranges, simulating clots of oil, are dropped and a helicopter helps locate the spill. The starboard side of the ship is used as a boom, the thick ice acts as the other side. The "oil" is then pushed by current, wind, and the help of fire hoses on another ship to the man-made "v" and it's collected by the skimmer.

â??We want to be able to test emergent technology like this to be able to help us respond better," says Mangoni.

"Theyâ??re going to take these and put them into the response plans so they're going to have things written out," says Hansen.

The Coast Guard will look at the information learned from this three day demonstration and determine what works and what doesn't. For those things that work, they'll be implemented. For the things that do not, they'll go back to the drawing board.

Oil development is expected to begin this summer in the Artic and the Coast Guard says these tests will be excellent tools to help in the wake of a spill.