Golfo San Jorge: Together in the face of the emergency

The companies operating in the basin have signed a Mutual Assistance Agreement with so they can plan a coordinated response to any emergency in their area.

Nobody in the area expected that in 2017, heavier rains than usual would turn neighboring streams into torrents, bursting their banks and flooding the region of Comodoro Rivadavia. When this happened, unexpectedly, it took a full week for the waters to subside, which not only made life in the city very difficult but also complicated work in all the surrounding fields. Equally unexpected were gales of up to 230 kilometers per hour, which triggered an orange alert a few weeks earlier, wreaking havoc and damaging facilities.

Both episodes were considered major emergencies and required rapid response with material and human resources that are often unavailable in the amounts required when they happen. The same is also the case when there is a fire or a spill at the plant, which are rare events, as well as with road accidents —which are far more common— as the nearest help is 100 kilometers away.

The operators working in the Golfo San Jorge Basin (south of Chubut and north of Santa Cruz) have just signed a Mutual Aid Agreement, a key resource-planning tool enabling a speedy and appropriate response to these and other emergency scenarios that could occur under the responsibility of the operators and have an impact on facilities, vehicles or people.

"When we lose time, people lose their lives," said Fernando Domenech, a security supervisor at El Tordillo. "Dealing with emergencies requires detailed prior planning so that when the time comes we have something ready to be deployed and we don't have to start improvising,” he added.

The process to draw up the agreement began some three years ago, but was put on the back burner with the outset of the pandemic. Today, it is already in force thanks to the signature and contribution of companies such as YPF (YPF Chubut; YPF Terminal Marítima; YPF Las Heras Santa Cruz); PAE (Chubut and Santa Cruz); Capex; Capsa; Termap, and Tecpetrol itself. For Tecpetrol, the process involved six months of virtual meetings before the final agreement could be reached, and only after being reviewed by the legal area of each company, could it be put into practice.

Among other guidelines on working together, the agreement includes a list of telephone numbers of a crisis management committee, referents whose decision-making powers are in place to enable each operator to respond to an emergency, 24/7. There are no good or bad times for emergencies—and they happen when they happen. Furthermore, no company has the capacity to respond adequately by itself, particularly when there are major disasters or catastrophes.

Defining the distance between the reservoirs Enables decisions to be taken as to who is best placed to provide help in an emergency.

High-speed winds are common in the area, easily able to fan any forest fire, where deterrents such as fences or deposits are completely ineffective. “If a large fire isn’t contained within the first four or five hours, it’s likely to spread quite fast, perhaps during another couple of days, so additional resources become necessary, and people involved in these efforts also have to be able to sleep and change their clothes if these get wet or smoke-contaminated. We also need to supply food for those directly affected by the catastrophe,” he explained. This is a logistical support task that goes far beyond the specific equipment required to keep the flames under control.

In major emergencies, when resources are few and far between, it’s vital to be clear about the limits and responsibilities of all those who are likely to be involved in the response. Although companies were already helping each other out, these tended to be informal arrangements and there was no framework establishing exactly how they could help each other according to clear rules.

Now, if a company lends resources to another in the middle of an emergency, the agreement provides in advance how this resource should be returned, and what should be done if that equipment gets broken or if it is a consumable resource. The clause says that the equipment should be returned in the same conditions, able to provide the same benefits with the same features, and if it is replaced, it should be of the same standard or higher.

The agreement defines responsibilities that need to be restarted before, rather than during, the emergency. As regards human resources, it establishes that the company with authority in the emergency is the one that must act in the first instance, accompanied by the others. The agreement also appoints a contingency leader and emphasizes that the priority should always be people’s safety, even if the emergency is ongoing.

The degree of cooperation between the safety representatives of the basin operators will define the future of this project. Because, beyond what is written down in black and white, the agreement represents the first step for other joint practices, such as sharing safety manuals, and ensuring communication equipment and training plans are compatible. "Working in peaceful times to avoid having to improvise when you need to respond quickly has no limits, as there are always opportunities for improvement."

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