Overhaul of oil-spill cleanups proposed

Companies and government agencies charged with containing and cleaning up oil spills in California may be required to use new cleanup technology and deploy cleanup equipment more rapidly after spills, under a suite of bills proposed this week by state lawmakers in the wake of the Cosco Busan accident.

The California Office of Spill Prevention and Response, and cleanup companies, control oil spills with long, floating booms. They recover boomed oil using skimmers, which are mechanical limbs attached to boats.

Booms weren’t used to control the 58,000 gallons of fuel that gushed from the container ship’s hull until more than 2½ hours after it gashed against a Bay Bridge tower on Nov. 7, senators were told at a hearing last week.

State Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, announced Wednesday that she would draft legislation to reduce the maximum response times to San Francisco Bay spills from six hours to two hours.

At a news conference attended by several Bay Area Assembly members, Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said he will propose legislation to provide $5 million in funding for new oil spill cleanup technology.

Booms used by the shipping industry-funded Marine Spill Response Corp., which was hired by the Cosco Busan’s insurer to control and clean up the spill, were useless immediately after the spill, Vice President Steve Ricks told a recent hearing of the Harbor Safety Committee, because the tide was sweeping through the Bay at up to 2.9 knots.

About one-third of the Cosco Busan oil has been recovered, according to U.S. Coast Guard figures.

“If that current is more than 1 knot,” Ricks said, “then that boom is going to tip over, and oil in the water will either go over or under.”

The lawmakers also said they will call on the governor to appoint an independent commission to investigate the state’s response to the Cosco Busan crash.

“We can’t have our own agencies self-assessing what went wrong,” Leno said.

Other bills proposed would ensure that local emergency agencies would immediately be informed of oil spills; provide additional response funds through a 25 cent per gallon tax on imported oil; and require private companies to buy the best available cleanup technology.

jupton@examiner.com

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