September 19, 2018
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Bill to protect against Maine oil spills likely dead

Peter Linehan | Flickr
Peter Linehan | Flickr
An oil tanker in Casco Bay.
By Jake Bleiberg, BDN Staff
Updated:

PORTLAND, Maine — A bill that would require ships transferring fuel in Maine waters to use protective devices meant to block the spread of oil in the case of a spill is likely dead.

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources last week recommended that Portland Sen. Ben Chipman’s bill should not be passed after a bevy of industry lobbyists and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection testified against it.

The bill would require ships transferring oil to deploy floating containment rings, known as booms, and inform the United States Coast Guard before they begin pumping the heavy oil that fuels many large vessels. It is unlikely to become law as the Senate routinely accepts committee recommendations.

Chipman, a Democrat, said he was disappointed his fellow legislators chose not to address a “clearly identified risk.” He said the committee was “overwhelmed by folks from the oil industry,” but he intends to try again on the issue.

Ships transferring fuel, a process known as bunkering, are not required to inform the Maine DEP or the Coast Guard beforehand, but notifying the federal agency that fuel is being moved became standard practice off San Francisco after a bunkering spill there.

In 2009 a Panamanian tanker spilled more than 400 gallons of fuel into San Francisco Bay while taking on oil from a barge. The spill reportedly affected more than 200 acres of beaches, marshland and mudflats; killed more than 100 seabirds; and resulted in a $2 million settlement.

In Maine waters, ship-to-ship fuel transfers take place “once or twice per week,” Jeff Squires, the new director of response services for the DEP, told the committee. Those transfers are subject to federal regulation, and Coast Guard records dating back to 2010 do not show any spills from them in Casco Bay.

Deploying a boom is standard practice to when fueling a ship moored in a berth, but several industry lobbyists and the DEP told that committee using the devices is not feasible when ships are anchored in open, sometimes choppy, water.

Requiring ships to use a boom when transferring fuel is “unnecessary and potentially dangerous,” Squires told the committee. And the “potential risk for unintentional release of oil to the environment during bunkering operations is negligible,” he said.

Industry groups, including CruiseMaine and the Propeller Club of Portland, said requiring the use of a boom would impose a high cost and put Maine maritime businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

The bill was supported by the Sierra Club Maine. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca said in written testimony that the bill is unlikely to effectively reduce the risk of spills during fuel transfers, as it does not clearly define who would determine when booms could or could not be safely used.

Frignoca suggested the committee look at laws in California, Washington and Oregon that allow the use of a boom or other spill prevention measures or an Alaska law that sometimes requires a boom be used during the transfer of fuel.


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