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Alder conducts oil spill drill outside Duluth

That isn't a large orange whale on a stringer the Coast Guard Cutter Alder is pulling around on Lake Superior this afternoon. Instead, it's part of a system used to clean up oil spills.

That isn't a large orange whale on a stringer the Coast Guard Cutter Alder is pulling around on Lake Superior this afternoon. Instead, it's part of a system used to clean up oil spills.

The Alder crew is conducting annual training with the Spilled Oil Recovery System, about 2½ miles out from the Aerial Lift Bridge. The SORS allows the Alder to quickly begin mopping up oil spills in or near the Twin Ports. The system includes a floating boom attached to an outrigger. In a real spill, the Alder would cruise slowly -- at a maximum speed of two knots -- through the slick. Its movement would force oil to the back of the U-shaped, 42-foot-wide boom. There, a floating skimmer pump would suck up to 440 gallons of oil and water a minute.

"You can't get 100 percent oil," Lt. J.G. Kenny Pepper said today. "The desired ratio is 20 percent water, 80 percent oil. That's the best you can hope for."

The pump is fitted with cutting knives to chop up such possible obstructions as vegetation, garbage, plastics, aluminum cans, bottles, driftwood and dead fish, birds and small mammals. The pump's operator can reverse the pump if necessary to spit out any blockage.

The pump sends oil and water into Sea Slugs -- large orange, floating bladders. The Alder carries two -- one with a capacity of 13,000 gallons, the other capable of holding 26,600. In a real spill, the Alder would likely work with other vessels.

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"Once we had one Sea Slug filled, someone would probably come and take it away from us and we would deploy the other," Pepper said.

Today's drill consisted of pulling the SORS out of its cargo hold and deploying it on the Alder's port side. While SORS can be deployed on both sides of the ship, doing so limits the Alder's maneuverability. With SORS deployed and the skimmer pump in place, the crew slung one of the Sea Slugs along the Alder's starboard side and began pumping lake water from the skimmer into the bladder.

Helping conduct today's training are members of the Coast Guard's Atlantic Area Strike Team and Ninth District Response Advisory Team.

"They came onboard to help familiarize us with the equipment and to help us with the deployment of it," Pepper said.

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