Coming so soon after the Cosco Busan fuel-oil spill in the Bay, this is a vivid reminder that accidents will happen. In this case (so far at least) the folks in San Francisco have gotten lucky and the Coast Guard response was timely. I hope the folks living around Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, and other busy port areas in confined estuaries are paying close attention and keeping on their toes – it’s only a matter of time before spills occur, and as the Cosco Busan incident illustrated, immediate effective response is necessary to prevent costly damage to both local economies and natural resources.
Wow, what the heck is goin’ on in our oceans?
This has been an awful two months for oil spills, starting in late October with the Pemex oil platform accident and continuing crude-oil spill in the southern Gulf of Mexico; a huge oil tanker spill in the Black Sea; the comparatively small, yet still quite damaging, Cosco Busan fuel-oil spill in San Francisco Bay; a major spill, the worst ever in South Korea, that’s destroyed shellfishing grounds and coated beaches; and now, a 1-million-plus-gallon crude-oil spill by Statoil, the state oil company of Norway, in the North Sea.
Cumulatively these spills represent more than 6 million gallons of oil. What a mess. As a California state official noted, the ecological effects of these spills continues for years, even decades, long after our attention has drifted elsewhere…
Speaking of oil spills, SkyTruth images revealed significant spills covering a large area of the northern Gulf of Mexico in the wake of Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. At the time, nobody was talking about what had happened to the 4,000 offshore oil platforms – and 34,000 miles of pipeline on the seafloor – when Katrina ripped through the Gulf as a Cat 5 storm, followed a few weeks later by Hurricane Rita. Attention was rightly focused on the unfolding human tragedy, as well as the 7-9 million gallons of oil spilled from damaged pipelines, refineries and storage tanks onshore.
On November 7 a transoceanic container ship called the Cosco Busan hit one of the supports for the SF – Oakland Bay Bridge, tearing a big gash in the side of the vessel and spilling 58,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil into the Bay. At first the Coast Guard seriously underestimated the size of the spill, and it took a couple of hours before containment and cleanup crews were on the scene. By then the oil had spread, and over the following week it traveled throughout much of the Bay and even out into the Pacific Ocean, washing up on beaches over a wide area.
We had a radar imaging satellite (named, appropriately enough, “Radarsat“) take a picture as it orbited over the San Francisco Bay five days later. Defenders of Wildlife, Ocean Conservancy and San Francisco Baykeeper helped pay for the image, which showed numerous slicks in the Bay and beyond the Golden Gate. Check out our gallery and the press release from Ocean Conservancy, and this video showing why the failure to contain the spill promptly lead to a much more widespread impact.
For you Google Earth users (and there are more of you every day!), we also produced this KMZ file. The story told by the imagery is summed up well by Warner Chabot at Ocean Conservancy: “…containing the oil in the first two hours is 100 times more important than chasing it all over the San Francisco Bay for the next two weeks.” Two Bay-area stations used our images in their November 20 broadcasts – CBS 5 news at noon (watch the story), and ABC 7 news at 5pm.
UPDATE 7/17/2009: The skipper of the Cosco Busan, John Cota, was just given a 10-month jail sentence for negligence leading to the illegal discharge of 53,000 gallons of oil into the Bay.