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SPECIAL REPORT: Oil on the Beach : ALONG THE BARRICADES : JIM O'BRIEN : Oil-pollution trouble-shooter with 200 spills' experience hired to coordinate Huntington Beach cleanup efforts.

February 12, 1990|JONATHAN WEBER

For Jim O'Brien, all oil spills have just one thing in common: they happen at night or on weekends.

O'Brien, a roving oil-pollution trouble-shooter hired to coordinate the Huntington Beach cleanup, was summoned at 10:30 Wednesday night from Lake Shore, La. He was on a plane for Los Angeles at 5:30 the next morning.

With 200 spills under his belt, O'Brien is recognized as one of the nation's leading cleanup specialists. A spokesman from BP America, a cleanup company, called O'Brien the Red Adair of the oil-spill business, in reference to the legendary oil-well fire specialist.

O'Brien is no stranger to these shores. His 20 years in the Coast Guard included a stint as head of the Pacific Strike Team, responsible for coordinating the cleanup of all oil spills in the West. He also was cleanup manager for the 1987 Pac Baroness spill in the Santa Barbara Channel and the 1988 Shell Oil Co. spill at Martinez.

Since he started his company, O'Brien Oil Pollution Services Inc., in 1983, he has worked spills from Antarctica to Valdez, Alaska, site of the last big oil spill on the West Coast last year.

The spill off Huntington Beach is challenging, although not out of the ordinary, he said.

"You look at 'em all, and say, 'This is not going to be the easiest thing,' " he said.

Each spill has its own peculiarities. In this case, the "wide variety of beach profiles" near the American Trader is one of the most difficult aspects of this project, he said.

But O'Brien was impressed by the "level of intensity from all the parties," including BP America and the industry cleanup cooperatives that are involved in the effort. The focused commitment, combined with the broad experience of many of the people involved, will be crucial in getting the job done, he said.

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