Drills, baby, drills - Page 3

Preparing for an oil spill requires staying in practice and investing in prevention

Birds that become drenched in oil after a spill are treated at WildCare in San Rafael

The official investigation report hasn't been released, but U.S. Coast Guard Captain Paul Gugg noted that a faulty valve was to blame. Some 2,000 gallons of oil overflowed, but went unnoticed until someone aboard a tugboat pointed it out, according to Gugg's account. Most of the oily mess was contained on board, but between 400 and 800 gallons spilled over the port side, instantly creating a toxic plume.

"This particular vessel is equipped with high-level alarms, and high high-level alarms, which did not activate," Gugg noted.

Under state regulations, vessels are required to respond to spills by deploying 600 feet of boom within 30 minutes, and 600 more feet more within one hour. In the case of the Dubai Star, that didn't happen, a report released by the San Francisco Estuary Partnership noted. Instead, the slick was allowed to spread.

Assembly Member Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) introduced AB 234 to establish a requirement for vessels to deploy boom before beginning a fuel transfer, so that a spill could be contained without losing time. The state of Washington has a similar law, noted legislative aid Paige Brokaw, "and their current conditions are pretty similar to our current conditions." Booming is only effective at slower currents, which makes things difficult since a fuel transfer can take more than eight hours, and currents may shift in that time.

Huffman's office received a letter of opposition to the bill from OSPR. "Booming is a good method to contain a spill, but it's not a foolproof method," said Singleton, the OSPR spokesperson. "To use that one method, it just may or may not work in certain circumstances." Nonetheless, proponents of the bill say that even partial oil containment in higher currents is better than having no precautionary measures at all.

While the lessons of the past can be instructive, forum participants noted that continuous coordination, communication, and vigilance is the surest path to being able to respond if another oil spill occurs in the Bay Area. Grader, meanwhile, said he knew the best solution of all. "The ultimate prevention," he said, "is basically getting off our oil addiction."