A Look Back on the Year in Emergency Response

Posted Thu, 12/30/2021 - 15:38
By Doug Helton and Shane O'Neal, Office of Response and Restoration Emergency Response Division
A group of people with a dog walking away from a helicopter.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Rafael Aguero, a rescue swimmer with Air Station Kodiak, carries Grace, an 8-month-old puppy, who was presumed lost after her owner's vessel ran aground near Black Point in Kodiak, Alaska, on Nov. 1, 2021. The puppy was missing for nearly 2 days after the crew aboard the fishing vessel Laura abandoned ship when their vessel ran aground.

It’s almost the end of the year and time to reflect on events. What a year, from the pandemic and teleworking, to wildfires and a record hurricane season. The “normal” emergency response activities that NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration deals with on a regular basis still took place, but under the unrelenting pressure of a challenging year for all. 

We wrote that paragraph last year to recap 2020, but it clearly still remains true for 2021. What a strange few years it has been. 

Despite the feelings of deja vu, emergencies continued to happen this year. Here is an updated summary of OR&R's Emergency Response Division responses for 2021 when, just as in previous years, the division provided scientific support to the U.S. Coast Guard in a wide range of scenarios—remotely when possible, and on-scene when needed.

Our first call of the year was on Jan. 13. The MV Kempton, a 328-foot liquified gas tanker, was leaking propane while unloading at a terminal in St Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. We provided a hazard analysis, including evaluating the flammability hazard and safety distances. The year is not quite over, and the most recent incident was a Dec. 22 mystery spill off of Bolsa Chica State Beach in Southern California. The source of that spill was later determined to be a DCOR LLC pipeline associated with the offshore oil platform Eva. 

So far this year, we've provided scientific support for 179 new incidents, and we are still helping with a couple of events that happened in previous years, such as the car carrier Golden Ray that sank in Georgia on Sept. 8, 2019. While the record-breaking salvage and wreck removal was largely completed when the final section of the ship was lifted out of Saint Simons Sound on Oct. 25, 2021, some cleanup actions will continue into 2022. 

We also continued support for the longest running oil spill in U.S. history—the Taylor Energy Platform oil spill, which began in 2004, when a production platform located in the Gulf of Mexico about 10 miles off the coast of Louisiana collapsed during Hurricane Ivan, resulting in an ongoing oil discharge that continues to today. A $16.5 million settlement was proposed on Dec. 22, and is currently open for public comment.

While 2021 was not quite a record for us, it was certainly a busy year, especially with the additional restrictions of COVID-19. Most of our responses are in the U.S., but we also provided support for a number of international incidents, including Canada, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Sri Lanka, Israel, and Syria.

A map of the world with dots on it.
Map of 2021 responses supported by OR&R’s Emergency Response Division.

At the end of the year tally, we break down our responses by the type of event, whether oil spills, chemical spills, or “other,” but here is a more detailed breakdown.

In 2021, we responded in 28 states and one territory. These included:

  • 28 fishing vessels,
  • 22 mystery spills (some were later identified),
  • 14 facility incidents,
  • 14 yachts and other pleasure craft,
  • 13 production platforms and wellhead leaks,
  • Nine derelict vessels,
  • Nine pipeline spills,
  • Eight tank farm accidents,
  • Seven lost/leaking container incidents (some involving hundreds of containers),
  • Seven freighter spills and groundings,
  • Seven International incidents,
  • Seven whales stranded or drifting,
  • Five tugboat/barge accidents,
  • Four tank truck accidents,
  • Three hurricanes and tropical storms (each with multiple spills),
  • Three marina fires,
  • Three Navy spills,
  • Two search and rescues,
  • Two tanker accidents,
  • Two historic vessels,
  • Two offshore supply vessels,
  • and one each of an earthquake, tornado, flood response, marine debris event, and plane crash.

Even though this year and this holiday season wasn’t typical for any of us, we still have much to appreciate. We're grateful for all of the emergency responders for the great work that they do. Let's ring in 2022 with great celebration and hope for a brighter future.

Check out the slideshow below to look back on some of this year's incidents. (Click on the photo to enlarge).

On Feb. 21, a vessel pushing eight barges up the Tennessee River near Loudon, Tennessee when they stalled due to a strong head current after passing under a railway bridge causing the tow to pile up against the bridge piers on the upstream side. Image credit: U.S. Coast Guard.
On Feb. 1, a vessel fire reportedly broke out in a marina in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. The U.S. Coast Guard requested NOAA provide a trajectory for a potential release of 70,000 gallons of light diesel and potential impact to an ice-covered bay.
The vessel, Eyak, recovering the net that was contaminated with fuel from the site of the Haida Lady sank, March 3, 2021, near Sitka, Alaska. All recovered oil products and the net were transferred to the vessel Eyak and will be properly disposed of. Image credit: U.S. Coast Guard.
On April 16, a fire broke out on a vessel in the Skipanon River near Warrenton, Oregon. The F/V Pacific Cloud was tied off and the local fire department went on scene to contain the fire. Image credit: U.S. Coast Guard.
FV American Challenger aground off Bodega Bay, California. Image credit: U.S. Coast Guard.
On May 3, the U.S. Coast Guard requested trajectory analysis for a fishing vessel that was taking on water 100 nautical miles east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The 98-foot F/V Nobska caught fire on April 30. Image credit: U.S. Coast Guard.
FV Tiffany, Columbia River.
The beak of an oiled grebe is cleaned at the International Bird Rescue in San Pedro, Calif., Oct. 8, 2021. Oiled birds are carefully treated by trained technicians at the center. Image credit: U.S. Coast Guard.
Crude oil is shown in the Pacific Ocean offshore of Orange County, Oct. 3, 2021.
Hurricane Ida.
Hurricane Ida.
A sonar image of the sunken vessel, Saint Patrick, in Women's Bay, Alaska, Aug. 14, 2021. Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, state partners, and local agencies continue to respond to a diesel oil sheen in Women's Bay. Courtesy photo by: E-track/USCG.
MV Express Pearl, Sri Lanka, Satellite Analysis.
On June 22, the U.S. Coast Guard reported receiving photos of abandoned tanks leaking a tar-like substance on a beach at Simmonds Hill near Utqiagvik, Alaska.
On July 22, a cement barge was reportedly discharging oil near New Orleans. An estimated 2,000 gallons of an unknown chemical was one the barge, and approximately 1,500 to 2,000 barrels (63,000 to 84,000 gallons) of crude oil was in the leaking storage container. Image credit: NOAA.
On Sept. 27, NOAA was notified that an orange sludge-like substance was reportedly releasing intermittently from the U.S. Steel Corporation overnight and that morning near Portage, Indiana. Image credit: U.S. Coast Guard.
The M/V "Calumet" ran soft aground near the Lake State Railroad Bridge in the Saginaw River, Michigan on Oct. 22. Image credit: U.S. Coast Guard.
Since Oct. 2, 2021, NOAA has been providing scientific support for an oil spill off of Huntington Beach, California. Image credit: NOAA.
Since Oct. 2, 2021, NOAA has been providing scientific support for an oil spill off of Huntington Beach, California. Image credit: NOAA.
On Nov. 1, an 84-foot fishing vessel ran aground in Chiniak Bay near Kodiak, Alaska. The FV Laura was carrying a potential spill volume of 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel at the time of the incident. The Coast Guard requested NOAA provide a trajectory for the potential fuel release.
On Nov. 4, the Coast Guard notified NOAA that a derelict barge was leaking oil in Deep River, Washington. An estimated maximum potential of 27,000 gallons of an unknown oil product was thought to be on the barge. Responders observed thick oil on the vegetation and at the high tide waterline near the barge. Image credit: U.S. Coast Guard.
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