Gurney's Inn
October 18, 2006

Oil Spill Sparks Concern


An oil spill in the Long Island Sound on Saturday left Riverhead shorelines dotted with fuel. According to Bill Fonda, the public affairs representative for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, an oil spill at an offshore fuel terminal took place on Saturday at approximately 10:45 p.m. The DEC's spill hotline was notified at around midnight by the oil company, ConocoPhillips.

The oil terminal facility is located about a quarter mile east of Pennys Road, with the platform approximately one mile offshore.

"ConocoPhillips notified us that the terminal was filling a barge and apparently the barge operator failed to shut down," said Fonda, causing a spill of what was originally estimated to be 20 gallons of #6 fuel oil. The spill, he said, went onto the deck of the barge and into Long Island Sound at the offshore platform.

But as the investigation unfolded, United States Ensign Peter Raneri reported that the amount of spillage into the Long Island Sound might be much higher than originally estimated. "The exact amount that spilled is still up in the air," said Raneri. "We are trying to investigate that right now. This is a very early stages guess, but we're saying approximately 100 gallons of #6 oil went into the water."

Raneri said the overflow was due to a miscommunication between the barge, owned by Penn Maritime Inc., and the ConocoPhillips facility.

A containment boom was put out immediately to collect the spillage, and the cleanup was underway fairly quickly.

Fonda said an environmental firm, Miller Environmental, was hired to begin assessing the damage and cleaning up tar balls, quarter-sized masses of fuel that washed up along two to three miles of area shoreline east of the terminal.

Seaweed on the shore had an absorbent effect, making cleanup easier, Raneri said.

A 30 man team from Miller Environmental was on the beach and Coast Guard officials were out all day Sunday and Monday. DEC staff from the departments of oil spills, tidal wetlands, and wildlife were out on Monday, providing updates.

"It's all contained," said Raneri. "The damage to the environment was very minimal."

As this publication went to press, a Coast Guard investigation was underway, "No responsible party has been identified," said Raneri. "Neither party has been identified as at fault."

Raneri emphasized that notification and hiring of the environmental firm was immediate. "It was jumped on very early and the cleanup is going well," he said.

The cost for the cleanup, he added, has not yet been determined.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Phil Cardinale noted that the barge was operating in heavy wind conditions, resulting in the overfill and spill. The supervisor said similar problems have occurred in municipalities such as Northport. "What is needed is possibly local legislation or, certainly, an assurance from the oil company and the barges that serve the platform that, in certain wind conditions of 25 knots or over, they do not do transfers."

Cardinale plans to speak to the town board tomorrow about implementing necessary legislation to ensure there are wind restrictions in the future.

The accident sparked grave concerns about Broadwater Energy's proposal for a floating liquefied natural gas terminal to be anchored in Long Island Sound about nine miles from Wading River.

The incident, he said, spotlights a point he has made in the past: "The industrial use of the Sound is not without cost."

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