Buzzards Bay Spill Much Larger Than Originally Reported

Wednesday, May 21, 2003
The Coast Guard was notified by Bouchard Transportation that the amount of oil spilled into Buzzard’s Bay on April 27 was approximately 98,000 gallons, not the 14,700 gallons Bouchard had originally reported. “Obviously, the difference is significant, and like everybody else, we want to know why,” said Captain Mary Landry, the coast Guard federal on scene coordinator for the spill response. “It will definitely be part of our investigation into what happened that night.” For most oil spills in U.S. waters, the responsible party – in this case, Bouchard Transportation – reports to the Coast Guard how much product they think spilled from their vessel. The initial estimate of oil spilled in this case was determined on the night of the incident within the first few hours of the spill by the tankerman aboard the barge. Movement of the barge while underway and a possible oil-water mix in the tanks may have contributed to the inaccurate reading. The oil-water mix may have also affected the tank readings taken on the barge’s two tanks at the ESCO terminal in Sandwich, Mass., later that week. The Coast Guard determines the official amount of oil spilled during its comprehensive investigation of the incident, which is still ongoing. The Coast Guard’s first priority is to minimize damage to the environment by focusing its efforts and oversight on clean up operations. The Coast Guard and the rest of the agencies in the Unified Command, including the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, presumed from the beginning that the entire contents of the barge, approximately 4.1 million gallons, were at risk and acted accordingly. “When we got the call, we threw everything we could at it – anticipating the worst,” Landry said. “We train and prepare for the largest possible spill we can imagine and we direct and determine the magnitude of our clean up efforts based on the amount of actual oil we find and see during overflights and shore patrols, not on a reported number.” The Coast Guard conducted an overflight of Buzzard’s Bay on the evening of the spill and another at first light the next morning to assess the situation. Those flights continued on a regular basis, and combined with the information being received from shore, helped the Unified Command determine the appropriate response level. As a result, the Coast Guard continually directed Bouchard during the first week to increase its workforce, and by the sixth day, over 700 workers were cleaning oiled beached and shoreline. To date, cleanup workers directed by the Unified Command have recovered 4,588 cubic yards of oily solid waste. On-water skimming operations netted 3,500 gallons of oil. Workers have deployed 8,500 feet of containment boom and 100,000 feet of snare. So far, $18.5 million has been spent on the spill response and clean up efforts.
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