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Coast Guard not prepared for a ”heavy” oil spill on the St. Lawrence River

September 19th, 2014 | Posted by admin

“Response plans and organization are not capable of responding to heavy oil spills” according to Rear Admiral Fred Midgette, commander of the Coast Guard’s District 9, which includes the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes.

A recent Detroit Free Press article highlighted the findings of a June 2013 Coast Guard report that was “frank on the limitations in dealing with heavy oil that sinks below the surface and makes traditional skimming recovery methods ineffective.” Noting that the report states “Current methods are inadequate to find and recover submerged oil, with responders having to reinvent the techniques on each occasion,” and “responses to recent higher profile submerged oil spills have shown responders have almost no capability in detection and recovery.”

Abay Oil Spill

We on the River know all too well what it means when agencies that are supposed to be prepared aren’t and events occur which exceed training and resources. Oil and water didn’t mix 38 years ago when the NEPCO 140 spilled 300,000 gallons of oil on the St. Lawrence River and they won’t today. But even the disastrous spill of ‘76 would pale in comparison to a spill of the heavier oils that may soon be shipped on the River and Great Lakes.

The Coast Guard and local first responders must be given the tools and resources necessary to develop appropriate action plans and the equipment and training to effectively implement them in the face of massive amounts of “extreme” energy waiting to get to overseas markets.      Alexandria Bay coated by the NEPCO spill, 1976

Kurt Hansen, a project manager at the Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center at New London, Conn. quoted in a recent Detroit Free Press Article, stated “‘Once the [heavy] oil goes below the surface, that sets a whole new set of problems. You’re going to have to figure out if it’s coming back up in tiny little droplets, because that’s going to need one set of recovery response and surveillance. Or, if it goes to the bottom in a clump, that’s going to need another set of response. And if it mixes with the silt and sand and dirt at the bottom, that’s going to need even a third set of response and information that you need.”

Another major oil spill will spell environmental and economic disaster for the St. Lawrence River and the communities that depend on its well being, severely damaging the fishing and recreational boating and killing off wildlife.

Its a lesson the River community hasn’t forgotten and we must make sure our elected officials, decision makers, shippers, the Coast Guard, the Seaway and energy executives don’t either. Before Bakken crude, tar sands oil or other extreme energy moves on the St. Lawrence River there must be a thorough and rigorous examination of the potential impacts and extensive public involvement.

Read the full article from the Detroit Free Press.

For more information on this and other pressing issues in the Great Lakes region click here.

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