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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: North Coast | Environment & Forest Defense
Oil Spill in San Francisco Bay
Thursday survey of remediation
On Thursday morning I rode my bicycle along the shore of the San Francisco bay to inspect the response and remediation of Wednesday's cargo ship's 'oil' spill. "Bunker C" is a sludgy type of 'bottom of the barrel' kind of fuel used by sea-going ships, and it is not completely accurate to call it oil. It is what is left-over after a refinery gets jet fuel, kerosene, gasoline, oil and diesel out of petroleum. The sludge is sold to tankers to burn while crossing the ocean and it is not usually very liquid, but, instead, is thick and gooey. It is generally filled with other minerals and metals and can be highly sulpherous and quite toxic. One reference lists the various elements found in Bunker C: Barium, Chromium, Copper, Iron, Lead, Magnesium, Molybdenum, Nickel, Titanium, Vanadium and Zinc. Some of these are radioactive elements and others are poisonous to plants and animals.
- I started by going to the Marina District near Fort Mason, and rode west from there to Chrissy Field. There were all types of police and Federal Protective Services stationed at every pathway and trail, blocking the public from traveling to the outer path and parking lot. I was able to circumvent them and got to attend a small press briefing held by a supervisor of the Golden Gate National Resources Area (GGNRA)
That GGNRA/Chrissy Field Supervisor called the tarry substance "lethal". He described how the material would break up into small balls, about the size of gravel, and float below the surface of the waves. This makes the clean-up harder - because finding the oil and capturing it is more difficult. It is as likely to sink as it is to float. It might be mistaken by animals as food, or it could coat their bodies with its oily aspects. The supervisor made it plain that these globs of oil were floating below the waves and had been found within the floating barrier that had been installed to protect the new Chrissy Field sanctuary. He cautioned the public to not touch them, as they are very delicate and burst into a nasty, staining slick. The toxicity, as mentioned above, make this smear more dangerous.
After the press briefing I attempted to travel the shoreline but was driven away by motorcycle police. There were many maintainence crews of throughout the park, but they were working on trash cleanup and gardening, not shoreline remediation. I got on a city bus and took my bike out past the Golden Gate Bridge to Seacliff.
- There is a small beach below the wealthy Seacliff neighborhood. Two pickup trucks with the logo "NRC Environmental Services" were stationed there, and about a half-dozen men in hardhats stood high in the driveway, seemingly observing the beach. When an oil soaked cormorant made it's way to shore, the men chased it down and took it to a pickup truck to be cleaned. It took two trys to capture it, as it flopped back into the waves and swam out a few dozen yards. It floated there for five or ten minutes, but was obviously in distress and sinking lower in the waves. It finally allowed the surf to push it in to the beach where the crew captured it easily. After doing a cursory cleaning they took it to a side beach, where there was a holding pen, and it was photographed. Few birds flew over the water, and only a few floated on the waves outside of the Golden Gate bridge.
The sheen on the water is more difficult to see from any angle, high or low, at the shoreline, but it's hazard is plain to see by the distress of the wildlife. The sea was basically calm or mild at late morning. The globules described earlier were not washing up on the shore at that time.
Golden Gate Bridge
- The view from the bridge shows scattered sheens of oily patches, primarily along the shore, with swirling currents holding larger patches in whirlpools. Many cormorants, gulls and other water birds were floating on the bay, appearing normal until they attempted to fly. That is when you realize the seriousness of the damage. Virtually no bird near the bridge could take off, but flapping frantically until exhaustion brings them down to the water again. The view from the bridge allows observers to see most shorelines, and virtually no oil-slick remediation existed. Only a few dozen yards were protected, and that is specifically at the mouth of the new Chrissy Field sactuary. As of Thursday mid-day, there were almost no floating barriers anywhere in the entire shoreline of San Francisco - north or south.
Embarcadero to Fisherman's Warf
- I rode out onto many piers - from Fort Mason to the Clock Tower - and saw a thin sheen or small patches of fine oil. Gulls were perched on rails and had obvious black lines across their breasts. Many wharves have harbor breaks - permanent barriers that protect the marinas from heavy wake - so the oil slicks are not as obvious, but if a person looks carefully they will see dead birds floating in corners and crevices. Near the site of the collision there is a milky sheen to the water and little activity of animal life. I didn't see any harbor seals or otters. The big sea-lions at pier 39 did not seem playful, or constantly diving into the water. There were hand-made posters tacked to poles on the piers declaring "No Fishing" in many languages.
Overall, I was struck by the inactivity of actual cleanup. There were plenty of law-enforcement personnel to restrict the area from public view, but only two areas had obvious clean-up operations - Seacliff and the mouth of the Chrissy Field estuary.