Coast Guard reviews lessons learned on Exxon Valdez 20-year anniversary

NEW YORK -A barge carrying almost six million gallons of number two home heating oil ran aground just off of Kings Point, N.Y., on Jan. 22, 2009. However, due to the double hull requirement established by the Oil Pollution Act -90 (OPA-90) in 1990 no oil spilled into Long Island Sound.

The Oil Pollution Act -90 (OPA-90) was created after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 24, 1989, causing an 11 million gallon oil spill – the largest ever recorded in United States waters.

The Coast Guard played a significant role in responding to this environmental disaster and continues to be the lead federal agency for responding to maritime-based spills.

OPA-90 has greatly aided the Coast Guard’s ability to prevent and respond to spills. The establishment of double-hulled tank vessel requirements, spill liability regulations, industry contingency plan requirements, establishing the National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC), and strengthening the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF) are all direct results from OPA-90 and have proved instrumental to spill prevention and response.

Since OPA-90 was established and the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred the Coast Guard remains ready to respond to any hazardous substance spill at a moments notice along 95,000 miles of the country’s shoreline, including all navigable waterways up to 200 miles out from the coastline of the U.S. and its territories; totaling over 3.5 million square miles of oceans, bays, lakes, and rivers.

The Coast Guard relies on the expertise of mobile strike teams to augment local responders within 24 hours following the notification of a spill anywhere in the United States, and the NPFC to ensure funds from the OSLTF are available at any time to support immediate spill response efforts. In addition, close working relationships with state pollution response agencies, such as Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (CT DEP) and New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NY DEC) are extremely important to both preventing and responding to oil pollution incidents.

Coast Guard Federal On scene Coordinators (FOSCs) serve as the lead response coordinator in every Captain of the Port (COTP) zone and continue to enforce OPA-90 laws and regulations.

Coast Guard pollution investigators have responded to over 40 hazardous substance spills in Connecticut this year and assisted in recovering thousands of gallons of hazardous material from the waterways.

Sector Long Island Sound ran massive spill exercises on a regular basis to ensure Coast Guard first responders remain ready to deploy to major incidents. On June 4, 2008 Sector Long Island Sound ran a two-day full-scale exercise that simulated over two million gallons of number-four oil spilled into New Haven Harbor from a local tank farm.

“In any given day, the Coast Guard diligently responds to oil and hazardous substance releases,” said Coast Guard Capt. Daniel Ronan, commanding officer of Sector Long Island Sound. “We will continue to be dedicated to environmental response and protecting the waterways of the United States by working with local partners to secure and recover any oil or hazardous material release.”

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