Oil spill response "Woefully inadequate"
Assemblymember Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) called the response to
last week's oil spill "woefully inadequate" at a special
oversight hearing in Emeryville yesterday.
Photos by John
By Caitlin McAdoo
November 15, 2007
Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, called the response
to the Nov. 7 Cosco Busan oil spill that spewed 58,000 gallons
of bunker oil into San Francisco Bay "woefully inadequate"
at an emergency oversight hearing in Emeryville Thursday.
Greg Hurner, deputy director of California Department of Fish
and Game's Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR),
told the panel, which included Hancock, Assemblymember Mark Leno,
D-San Francisco, and Assemblymember Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland,
that OSPR had approved the ship's contingency plans and that the
shipping company had responded to the spill in accordance with
Panelists included Assemblymember Loni Hancock (D- Berkeley),
Assemblymember Mark Leno (D-San Francisco),
and Assemblymember Sandre Swanson (D- Oakland)
"So what went wrong?" Hancock asked.
"I'm not saying it went wrong," Hurner said.
The ship struck the base of the Delta Tower of the San Francisco-Oakland
Bay Bridge at 8:27 a.m. on Nov. 7. The U.S. Coast Guard notified
OSPR officials at 8:30 a.m. and they had teams out on the water
assessing the extent of the spill within the hour, Hurner said.
The leak was stopped within half an hour, Hurner said.
The ship's captain originally told OSPR that 420 gallons of oil
had escaped from the 100 foot long, 12 foot wide and three foot
deep gash in the vessel's hull. Officials didn't determine the
actual quantity of oil released until 5 p.m., more than eight
hours after the incident.
Hurner emphasized that California had the most stringent regulations
for oil-carrying vessels in the nation and that the response to
the incident had gone according to the state approved contingency
Hancock asked Hurner if OSPR officials believed that the response
was the best it could have been.
"They responded appropriately to the incident," Hurner
said. He added that OSPR would be evaluating the response to see
where it could be improved for future disasters.
"I suggest that we need to do that," said Hancock.
"That nothing went wrong, that it was the best we could do,
I think that's not an acceptable answer."
Although the ship was 900 feet long, it was only required to
be able to deploy 600 feet of boom within the first hour of an
incident, according to Hurner.
Booms were never placed around the ship because, according to
Hurner, by the time they could have been deployed, the oil had
already spread through the water.
Leno asked why booms weren't placed across the Bay Bridge to
keep the oil from spreading.
Hurner said they would have been ineffective. Emergency responders
instead focused their attention on determining where the oil was
going, he said.
Although Hurner said there was sufficient personnel to respond
to the spill, Craig Merrilees, communications director for the
International Longshore and Warehouse Union, argued that more
trained people ready to respond to the incident could have resulted
in better containment.
"You might want to ask yourself why the company redeployed
3 times the number of folks they had on the sight from all over
the United States to be here."
Merrilees alleged the company Marine Spill Response Corporation
had only around 20 dedicated responders prior to the incident,
and that the number of responders actually needed to operate the
necessary equipment was around an excess of 60.
He said theMSRC short staffing was, "neither an accident
or an oversight," but part of an official policy that, "deliberately
under-staffs the areas until a disaster strikes
The shipping company flew emergency responders in from the east
coast and the gulf coast to help with the cleanup efforts.
"By the time most MSRC personnel arrived to work on the
Bay Area spill, it was nearly 24 hours and 4 tide cycles too late,"
Chris Boyer, emergency services manager for Contra Costa County
office of Emergency Services, said his agency had not been able
to immediately respond to the spill because it wasn't given the
authority to do so.
"Every disaster is a locally managed disaster - except oil
spills," Boyer said.
Hancock said before the hearing she would be working to draft
legislation to give local agencies the training and equipment
necessary to respond to oil spills. She said she would also be
looking at possibly requiring ships to be double-hulled and requiring
them to have more tugboat escorts when navigating the Bay.
John Han contributed to this report.
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