Bunker Fuel Spill Comes Ashore in Delaware Bay

oil patty dnrec
Image courtesy DNREC

Published Oct 20, 2020 4:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard and Delaware state officials are responding to a bunker fuel spill that is washing up at Broadkill Beach, Delaware, a small community at the entrance to Delaware Bay. 

On Monday evening, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control called the Coast Guard National Response Center to relay a report of oil patties that washed ashore on Broadkill Beach. Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay contracted with an oil spill response company to begin a cleanup. 

The Delaware State Police conducted an overflight of the area late  Monday, but due to low light they did not observe any product offshore. At first light, a second assessment confirmed oil patties ranging from the size of a quarter to as large as a manhole cover along the shoreline. 

James Bethard, the head of DNREC's Emergency Response & Strategic Services Section, told local media that few signs of pollution have been spotted in the water. However, a seven-mile stretch of shore appears to be affected by the sludge-like patties. The extent of the spill widened overnight as the tide broke up patties and spread the oil to nearby areas, including Beach Plum Island near Cape Henlopen, Roosevelt Inlet and Lewes. Cleanup is expected to take several days. 

Testing has confirmed that the substance is heavy fuel oil, but the vessel responsible has not yet been identified. Lab "fingerprinting" the fuel's composition may help officials to determine the source vessel. Based on the quantity found on shore so far, DNREC has estimated the size of the spill at about 200 gallons.