The priceless biodiversity and thriving marine ecosystems of the northern California coast, especially the Point Reyes peninsula, are uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of an oil spill.
On October 8th, Governor Brown signed into law a package of three bills [SB 414, SB 295, and AB 864] that will provide a comprehensive approach to improving California’s oil spill prevention, preparedness and response system. EAC worked tirelessly in the Capitol this legislative session to ensure that these bills made it to the Governor’s desk, knowing that our coastal communities, their thriving economies, and the marine environment will significantly benefit from their improved safeguards to our ocean and coastal environment. Click here for Governor Brown’s signing message and read below for additional details on each of these bills.
EAC’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program History:
California’s oil spill regulations require response contractors to invest in and utilize a cutting edge approach to maritime emergency preparedness and response, requiring best available on-water recovery technology. Unfortunately, the essential equipment and infrastructure to meet this legal standard are not in place. EAC is leading environmental groups in California to ensure the prevention and response equipment we need to address disastrous oil spills is in place.
EAC’s Oil Spill Prevention and Marine Protection Initiative began in January 2013 to ensure that the high standards of California’s oil spill law are met, and that the oil and cargo shipping industry take full responsibility for the risk that they create to our irreplaceable coastal and ocean resources. The goals of the Initiative are to 1) ensure that California is meeting its legal requirements to provide state-of-the-art oil spill prevention and preparedness, 2) increase awareness about the need for a dedicated emergency response and rescue vessel (ERRV), and 3) raise the alarm about the application of chemical dispersants as a consequence of not preventing oil from entering the marine environment.
Without an ERRV, the alternative is simply unacceptable: the oil and shipping industries have a large stockpile of chemical dispersants that they are willing to apply in our waters. When chemical dispersants combine with oil their toxicity greatly increases, so do their adverse impacts to fish and other sea life. The only way to prevent or limit dispersant use is to have adequate means of prevention like an ERRV to prevent a vessel grounding or patch a leaking hull with state-of-the-art salvage technology. The region from the Farallone Islands to Point Reyes to San Francisco Bay has been identified by state and federal regulators as possessing both the highest density of vessel traffic and the greatest environmental sensitivity of all the US ports in the Pacific. However, increases to the horsepower, bollard pull, deck equipment, and towing gear of the Bay’s current tug fleet have not matched increases in the size of vessels calling on our ports.
EAC has quickly realized that, with the exception of San Francisco Baykeeper, there is little to no public representation or participation in the Bay Area’s maritime safety dialogue, and there is no public constituency in California watch-dogging the maritime industry like there is in Alaska and Washington. EAC hopes to change that. In addition, the state Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) is in the process of scaling back its program because of a sunset clause on the imported petroleum tax the state collects from facilities that import crude oil. Fortunately, one organization noticed the problem and sponsored AB 881 designed to restore funding for essential spill prevention and response activities. Nonetheless, EAC believes there is a great deal of complacency among state and federal regulators, and industry representatives that are the focus of the proposed legislation are not likely to take the lead in pushing for needed improvements to emergency response. EAC believes that public must demand that the Bay Area begin discussions about a per-transit, user-funded ERRV, similar to what is required in Washington State. Nearly every other major port in the world has an ERRV funded by the maritime transportation industry or the government. Download a map showing areas of high sensitivity along the coast.
Comparison of Pacific coast oil spill regulations
Trans Alaska Pipeline System tankers have been delivering crude oil from the Prudhoe Bay, Alaska region to west coast refineries since 1977. Loaded tankers from Valdez deliver crude oil to California ports before heading into the Puget Sound because of the Magnuson Amendment to the Marine Mammal Protection Act which prohibits vessels delivering oil to Washington refineries from traveling east of Port Angeles loaded with more than 125,000 deadweight tons. Therefore, the volume of a worst-case discharge from a TAPS vessel is greater in California than in Washington.
Dispersant application and toxicity information:
The application of toxic dispersants has become the default response option for Responsible Parties in larger oil spills. Dispersants do not have pre-approval status in National Marine Sanctuary waters, but current on-water recovery capability is not sufficient to guarantee minimal use of dispersants during a response to a large spill. The decision to use dispersants is often based on, and justified by, the lack of mechanical on-water recovery capability. When combined with oil, the toxicity of chemical dispersants is magnified and causes a laundry list of lingering adverse impacts to the marine environment.
Links to Information on Adverse Impacts of Chemical Dispersants:
- Persistence in environment
- 52 fold increase in toxicity
- Long term effects on human health and the environment
- Earhtjustice Dispersant Report on Deepwater Horizon (attached)
Recent spill impacts to fish and wildlife in the Bay Area:
The Cosco Busan spill occurred in the spawning and rearing habitat for the largest coastal population of Pacific herring along the continental United States. Herring are a keystone species in the pelagic food web, and this population supports the last commercial finfish fishery in San Francisco Bay. The contamination of inter-tidal and shallow sub-tidal zones with Cosco Busan bunker oil posed a toxic threat to herring spawn and by extension, the productivity and abundance of the San Francisco Bay spawning population. To ensure that such future impacts are eliminated or minimized an oil spill response system that meets the best achievable protection must be in place.
Incidents and other information:
- January 7, 2013 oil tanker Overseas Reymar hits Bay Bridge
- Oil supply sources to California refineries
- TAPS Trade Tankers (attached)
- Worst case discharges as reported in vessel response plan filed with the Coast Guard
Container vessel EMMA Maersk: 4,508,532 gallons of oil
Tank vessel Overseas Sovereign: 91,072,128 gallons of oil
Tank vessel Alaskan Frontier: 55,729,338 gallons of oil