Another Bunker Fuel Spill in San Francisco Bay
16th November 2009 17:21 GMT

On October 30, 2009, a fuel transfer mishap involving the Dubai Star tanker resulted in the release of between 400 and 800 gallons of bunker fuel into San Francisco Bay waters.  

The spill stretched for over three miles across the Bay, and covered the shores of several East Bay beaches.  At least 37 birds are known to have died due to the viscous fuel oil. 

The spill also caused shoreline fishing and shellfish harvesting closures in parts of the Bay and has likely adversely affected eelgrass beds, which support a locally important herring fishery.  Clean-up operations are still ongoing two weeks after the incident.

While much smaller than the 2007 Cosco Busan spill, the environmental impacts of the Dubai Star incident are noteworthy and raise questions as to what should be done to prevent or mitigate future spills.  

California State regulations (14 Cal. Code Regs. § 844 (c)) require vessels conducting fuel transfers to either pre-boom or have boom on hand to respond to a potential spill within 30 minutes.  

In the San Francisco Bay, vessels do not appear to pre-boom; and, in the case of the Dubai Star, boom was not placed around the vessel until four to six hours after the spill was first reported.  

With this late action, many entities were placed in the position of reacting to an expanding spill, and cleaning up its impacts, which is costly and inefficient.  

Friends of the Earth believes that mandatory pre-booming for vessel fuel transfers in the Bay and other State waters would be a sensible, precautionary policy, and would likely have contained the Dubai Star fuel spill.  

States such as Washington and Alaska already have mandatory pre-booming provisions for fuel transfers.  The Washington Department of Ecology has found pre-booming to be "highly effective at trapping or containing spilled oil" and reducing the amount of oil spilled in Puget Sound.  Just last week, a 500-gallon spill of jet fuel in Puget Sound was completely contained due to pre-booming.  

The San Francisco Bay, one of the most important estuaries in the United States, deserves equally strong protections.  

To that end, we have joined with other environmental and fishing groups to call upon Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to improve California’s oil spill prevention measures.  If we can contain these spills and prevent substantial ecological harm from occurring in California waters, and do so in a cost-effective manner, then what is stopping us?

John Kaltenstein,
16th November 2009 17:21 GMT

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