By Frank Csulak
On a relatively calm afternoon on October 19, the U.S. Coast Guard informed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that tarballs and oiled debris were strewn about 12 miles from the Delaware Bay shore. As the Science Support Coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Region at the NOAA Response and Restoration Office, I’m used to such calls and started working with my team on the track, weather and news. on the tides.
The affected area in the bay extended from Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge to Cape Henlopen. In spring, this area provides habitat for hundreds of thousands of horseshoe crabs that come ashore to lay their eggs, followed by the arrival of tens of thousands of migratory birds – especially the red knot and oystercatchers, two federally protected endangered species that feed on horseshoe crab eggs. Because of these species, NOAA also held an informal consultation on endangered species.
However, within days of the tarballs’ initial landing, those 12 miles of oiled shoreline turned into over 60 miles of impacted coastline – stretching from Prime Hook in Cape Henlopen National Park to Fenwick Island, then south. to the north of Assateague Island Virginia.
In addition to the Coast Guard and OR&R Emergency Response Division, other agencies and organizations that responded to the oil spill included the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Maryland Department of the Environment, the Virginia Department. the quality of the environment and the rescue and search in the three states. Lewis Environmental was hired by the Coast Guard as an oil spill response agency to provide the manpower and equipment needed to remove the oil from the affected shores.
To date, the Coast Guard has not been able to identify the source of the spill. As a result, the Delaware Bay Coast Guard Sector opened the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to cover the costs of the response. Initially, it was believed that several ships involved in a lightening operation in Delaware Bay a few days before the oil came ashore could have been the source, but after collecting samples of the source oil on these ships, including tracking a vessel to Corpus Christi, Texas, the Connecticut Coast Guard Marine Safety Laboratory was unable to “fingerprint” a match between samples from source oil and field samples. NOAA has also made arrangements through the chemistry department at Louisiana State University to analyze the tarballs. Laura Basirico, a chemist at LSU, concluded that the oil was a “fresh” oil, possibly a refined high-aroma heating oil or diesel fuel.
Since there are several wrecks nearby off New Jersey and Delaware, this has raised the question of whether any of these wrecks, especially those sunk by German submarines in the early years 1940, could be the source. Christopher Barker, oceanographer at OR&R, prepared several different trajectory models using these known wrecks as a potential source. Modeling has shown that it is extremely unlikely that any of these wrecks were the source.
We also contacted NOAA’s National Directorate of Environmental Satellite Analysis, Data and Information Services (NESDIS). NESDIS operates a fleet of environmental satellites that provide critical global images of important weather and environmental events. For this case, we contacted Juan Velasco, an oceanic remote sensing operations officer at NESDIS, for pictorial support. Even after several days of excellent satellite imagery of wrecks off the coasts of New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, the images did not detect any oil leaks from the ships. To further support Coast Guard efforts to identify a source, United States Coast Guard District 5 has organized C-130 fishing flights to overfly wrecks as part of their patrol missions, and flights fishermen did not detect any oil spills from nearby wrecks. .
Regarding the old question: “How clean is it?” Regarding the disposal of oil on the beaches, Jacqui Michel, a contractor with NOAA, recommended that the end point of cleaning up for this spill is to remove any tar balls larger than the size of a penny or more than 3 centimeters and remove all oiled debris. Primarily employing manual removal, with the use of some mechanical beach rakes, all visible oiled wrack and tar balls were removed by contractors – totaling 85 tonnes.
As of Nov. 13, the Coast Guard deemed the response complete along all shores of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.
In summary, this spill response demonstrated a successful collaboration of first responders, assessment teams, investigators and response officers, who spent weeks cleaning up the banks of the Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. The collaborative effort under unified command achieved its goals of cleaning up this spill and protecting our shores.
Frank Csulak is the Scientific Support Coordinator for the East Coast of the NOAA Response and Restoration Office, covering New York to North Carolina, and acting SSC for northern New England to Long Island Sound. It provides scientific expertise to the US Coast Guard in the event of oil or chemical spills in the marine environment. This was first posted on the NOAA Response and Restoration Office blog.