In July 2014, ExxonMobil personnel were scrambling to respond to an event that never happened.
The scenario for an emergency response exercise sounded real enough. An offloading pipe had ruptured on a tanker berthed at a marine terminal in the United Kingdom. Worried that oil was spilling into the water at an alarming rate, the team moved to act fast to stabilize the situation and minimize damage.
Luckily, this incident didn’t actually occur. It was “Exercise Supermarine,” a three-day training exercise that involved biologists, spill clean-up experts, engineers and local government officials.
To the more than 120 members of the ExxonMobil Regional Response Team who sprang into action, this simulation was as serious as if an incident had really taken place. They worked deep into the night for several days to hone and sharpen the skills that will be required if an incident did take place.
The very existence of such teams points to a seeming contradiction in how ExxonMobil conducts business. The company’s workforce is expected to ensure that incidents like spills, leaks, or other accidents never, ever occur – and ExxonMobil is proud of its industry-leading performance over the last decade.
In the unlikely event an incident does happen, however, ExxonMobil needs to be ready to respond. Regional Response Teams provide global coverage, and are capable of responding to incidents anywhere the company operates. As Art Powers, a team coordinator, explains, “The importance and practicality of maintaining the team is that it allows the corporation to bring together personnel with important skills, expertise and experience from all business lines as a cohesive team in as little as 24 hours.”
Though the situations and regions for ExxonMobil incident response training exercises always vary, the U.K. event was typical. It provided team members with an opportunity to practice using new technologies to respond to the simulated emergency, in this case an oil spill. They assessed the impact on local beaches with handheld survey tools, monitored the situation from the air with drones and worked to keep the public informed using new communications software and platforms.
Importantly, the U.K. exercise allowed Regional Response Team professionals to practice incident response in real time with public agencies such as the Maritime and Coast Guard Agency, the Port of Southampton, and the U.K.’s Environment Agency. As one Environment Agency staff member commented at the end of the exercise, “I found the whole exercise very useful and a good learning experience. Should we ever have a large incident – and my fingers are crossed that we never do – calling the Regional Response Team will be at the top of my agenda.”
Conducting drills and emergency response exercises is a routine part of working at ExxonMobil, and not just for members of the specialized Regional Response Teams. All ExxonMobil employees are subject to regular safety reviews and training.
Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson likes to point out that all ExxonMobil employees are in the risk-management business. Being prepared to deal with unlikely contingencies is an essential part of managing risk. That’s why ExxonMobil keeps practicing – so they will be ready to respond.