Incident Responses for October 2020

Posted Fri, 11/13/2020 - 16:23
A vessel grounded on a shore.
On Oct. 18, a tug vessel that was towing a smaller tug vessel reportedly broke free and sank near Duluth, Wisconsin. The sunken tug is 45 feet long with a maximum potential of 400 gallons of diesel and 10 gallons of lube oil on board. Responders observed no sheening or oil impacts, and the vessel remains in place. Image credit: U.S. Coast Guard.

Every month our Emergency Response Division provides scientific expertise and services to the U.S. Coast Guard on everything from running oil spill trajectories to model where the spill may spread, to possible effects on wildlife and fisheries and estimates on how long the oil may stay in the environment.

This month OR&R responded to 15 incidents, including oil discharges, grounded vessels, and other pollution-related incidents.  

Here are some of October's notable incidents:

Oil from Unknown Source Washes Ashore on Broadkill Beach, Delaware

After an unknown volume of heavy oil from an unknown source washed ashore on Broadkill Beach, Delaware on Oct. 19, NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration went on scene at the request of the Coast Guard to assist in hindcasting and forecasting the spill. 

Since that first day, tarballs have washed up on both bay-side and ocean-side beaches extending from Fowler Beach, Slaughter Beach, Prime Hook Refuge, Lewes, Cape Henlopen State Park, and continuing south to Rehoboth Beach, and Dewey Beach. On the morning of Oct. 26, the State of Maryland reported small amounts of tarballs coming ashore in Ocean City, Maryland. The cleanup continues more than one week later. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard continues to investigate the source of the spill and has spent over $1 million to date responding to the spill. Some Delaware beaches have been closed or have restricted access to facilitate cleanup. 

The Coast Guard estimates that about 55 tons of oil, tarballs, oily sand and oiled debris — enough to fill four construction dumpsters — has been recovered so far. A Unified Command, consisting of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Sector Delaware Bay and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), is managing the cleanup. An Incident Command Post has been established at the Slaughter Beach Volunteer Fire Department in Slaughter Beach. NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are also assisting with the cleanup operations. 

At the request of USCG Sector Delaware Bay, NOAA generated a trajectory model to assist with forecasting where the winds and currents may transport the tarballs, coordinated Endangered Species Act informal consultations with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, and have developed clean-up recommendations, best management practices, and clean-up end points. 

The Unified Command has also received more than 60 reports of oiled birds, however, Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, based in Newark, Delaware has not recovered any wildlife for rehabilitation. 

Hurricane Zeta Damages Oil Tanks, Releases Over 21,000 Gallons of Oil

Hurricane Zeta, which hit Louisiana on Oct. 28, impacted a test facility near New Orleans — releasing an estimated 500 barrels (21,000 gallons) of crude oil from one of three tanks on the platform. The tank was discharging onto the platform and into the water. 

The hurricane damaged all three tanks. Only the first lost all product, though another tank was releasing a minor discharge. Responders contained the leaking tank. No shoreline impacts have been observed at this time, and the site remains contained — with ongoing operations to recover the oily discharge from the leaking tank. Responders continue to work to safely remove the remaining oil from all the two tanks that still have product in them. 

Here is the complete list of last month’s incidents, click on the links to find out more: 

An aerial view of an oil sheen in water.
On Oct. 3, the Marine Safety Unit Chicago reported a mystery sheen near Government Pier in Waukegan, Illinois. The Coast Guard requested NOAA provide a trajectory for where the sheen was moving. The cause of the sheen remains unknown. Image credit: U.S. Coast Guard.