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Coast Guard’s Joint Maritime Test Facility Reopens After Completion of Final Tests


The Coast Guard Research and Development Center (RDC) tests a fire-resistant oil-containment boom to control a flame during a controlled oil test burn at the Joint Maritime Test Facility (JMTF) on Sept. 19, 2018. The JMTF reached full operational capability with the successful completion of this test. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist Sarah Canatsey.

The Coast Guard Research and Development Center (RDC) completed a seven month project to renovate and modernize the Join Maritime Test Facility (JMTF) on Little Sand Island in Mobile, Alabama with a controlled oil burn on Sept. 19.

The final test served several critical purposes: it marked the achievement of full operational capability for the project, allowed the RDC to evaluate updated procedures for conducting a safe burn and was the first demonstration of burning under varying seas states (artificially generated waves) since 2001. “We tested our ability to use the burn pan as it was originally built, to expose a fire-resistant oil containment boom to burning diesel fuel or crude oil while simultaneously exposing it to wave action,” said Lt. Chuck Clark, JMTF supervisor.

The burn used a checklist to ensure that every item was completed before, during and after testing.  “We performed a talk-through of the procedures first, discussing in detail everyone’s positions and jobs and stopping to answer all questions to ensure everyone fully understood what was happening at each point in the test,” Clark said. “We then performed a walk-through of the procedures where everyone acted out their duties such as generating waves, talking over the hand-held radios and physically walking through the motions.”

In order to create a realistic simulation of a large oil spill, diesel fuel was pumped through a fuel delivery system that placed the fuel underwater in the center of the burn pan, where a continuous feed of fuel floated to the surface. A standard American Fireboom fire-resistant boom was then used to contain the fuel and flame. The fire was lit using a commercially available long-pole propane torch. A wave maker created waves that met the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standard for testing fire-resistant boom.

The pan was designed to “simulate at-sea conditions similar to an in situ burn response to an oil spill, to develop the ASTM standard for certifying oil containment boom as fire resistant.” As a result, companies can use it to test their products for ASTM certification. For example, a company can use the facility to test a product to meet ASTM standard F2152 which requires a product to survive “three one-hour burns of diesel fuel with at least a one hour cool-down between burns, all while being exposed to waves of at least 15 centimeters at a period of three seconds or less.”

Customers from both the public and private sectors can use this facility for their tests. The JMTF recently conducted two tests at the burn pan, sponsored by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for one test and and Worcester Polytechnic institute for the second test. The JMTF is actively working with BSEE to schedule up to four additional tests relating to oil spill response while RDC researchers consider potential tests of their own.

The Coast Guard is actively working with BSEE and academic institutions to develop a solution to improve the efficiency of burning and reduce the amount of smoke caused by in situ burning. Despite the smoke plume, studies have shown in situ burning is the preferred response method for an oil spill as it is 90 percent effective at removing oil from the water compared to mechanical methods which are only 40 percent effective.

While the smoke plume is a concern that the Coast Guard and its partners are working to address, representatives from the JMTF have worked with the Alabama State Port Authority to establish procedures that prohibit burns when the winds will carry the smoke to nearby cities or the causeway. When responding to oil spills, the Coast Guard evaluates wind speed and direction to minimize the impact to surrounding communities.

Marine environmental protection is among the Coast Guard’s 11 statutory missions, and drives its involvement in these tests. As part of this mission the Coast Guard develops regulations for oil spill responders and acts as the federal on scene manager for large oil spills. By working with companies who want to test their products at the JMTF, the Coast Guard is able to develop critical knowledge of the available products and situations in which they can be used, while encouraging industry partners to pursue more efficient methods for oil removal.

For more information: Joint Maritime Test Facility page and Research and Development Center program page