Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bunker Fuel Kills Herring

San Francisco Oil Spill Beach Closures

I was in a bad mood.   

Because I was in a bad mood, I indulged myself with a longish blog. 

Although statistics prove that our readership is directly correlated with the length of the blog (short = more), the cleverness of the title (boring = fewer), and the interest level of the picture up top (Wile E.Coyote rules!), I wrote a long blog with a boring title and a dull picture. Unsurprisingly, it went quite widely unread.

But right now, I’m feeling like a prophet.

Down at the bottom, where it’s probably safe to assume that few readers dared tread, I went on a rant about bunker fuel.   I quoted a ten-year old article about bunker fuel (BORING!), which said:

Although only oil tankers can cause very large spills, many bulk carriers and container ships carry bunker fuel of 10,000 tonnes or more – these are larger quantities than many of the world's tankers carry as cargo.

Most importantly, ships' bunkers normally consist of heavy fuel oils, which in general are highly viscous and persistent. A relatively small quantity of highly persistent bunker fuel can be disproportionately damaging and costly to remove in comparison, for example, with a substantial cargo of light crude oil.

Bunker Spill Risk,” 2001.

The Gateway Pacific project will bring Cherry Point 487 bulk carriers at buildout, including some of the biggest in the world. 

Carrying bunker fuel.

To a pier located in herring habitat.  (Read more about herring here, in Bob Simmons’ article in Crosscut.)  

So what’s new? 

In an article that was just published by the National Academies of Science, researchers examined the effects of a relatively small spill of bunker fuel in San Francisco Bay.  What did they find? 

That oil is far more toxic to herring than we had believed.
The effect of bunker oil on Pacific herring was so profound and unexpected that it now redefines our understanding of the sensitivity of fish embryos to oil—even in an environment where there's a lot of preexisting background pollution.” (That’s from coverage in Mother Jones, which includes a video showing the spread of the spill.) 

Our own Bellingham Herald published an article that quoted one of the coauthors of the herring study:

"Bunker fuel is used worldwide and is spilled relatively often," Cherr said. "It is important to look at small spills in sensitive areas."

So what?

In my experience, environmental impact statements tend to view the risk of accidents as an impact that cannot be mitigated. In other words, if there's a risk, you live with it. 

With 487 bulk carriers per year, we need to know the risk.  Even more important, we need to understand the consequences of a bunker fuel spill.

And so, the EIS needs to tell us, very clearly and without shirking:  if there is a bunker fuel spill, what will happen to the Cherry Point aquatic reserve? 

Herring for coal.  If there's a trade to be made, we must at least make it mindfully.


  1. Glad to see you're drawing attention to this topic. The Cherry Point herring are in enough trouble already. Who knows how much damage could result from a relatively small bunker fuel spill?

  2. Of course I read it! I never mentioned to you my days in Port Townsend where the environmental impact of transferring bonkers fuel happened in the bay. There should be a lot of studies available. That is, if course, assuming that someone wants to do a proper EIS. By the way, it was a shoreline permit that was being discussed for how they transferred the fuel.

  3. "Bonkers fuel" it is. Perfect. The iPad has its moments of genius.

    During the course of reviewing a shoreline permit, Port Townsend assessed the environmental impact of bonkers, er, bunker fuel? Sounds reasonable and responsible to me.

  4. So long, boring posts discourage readership? Geez, even when you throw in exciting latin legal terms? Maybe that rule applies to me, but my sense is that the public is hungrily reading your every word on GPT. Your posts are widely cited. Please keep up the great work in whatever style, because it all works for me.

  5. Sitting in the hospital typing on the iPhone makes one go "bonkers" for sure.

    Speaking of bonkers, check out D6 drivel. Time for us to host the Dumb Growth Conference here in Whatcom County. April 1st is a Friday. Who's in?

  6. I agree with Wendy--thanks again for another great and important post!

    And for us newbies who are still learning things we probably should have known long ago, David can you tell me a little more about the "D6 drivel" that you mentioned in your comment. Sorry for my ignorance. Thanks! :)

  7. Hi CM,

    Not ignorant at all -- I too was unsure about the "D6" comment until it occurred to me that it must refer to a Planning Commissioner who sometimes posts as "Davesix." To test that theory, I actually looked at the Herald online. (The Herald online is such an unpleasant place that I try to avoid it. Like wandering into a junior high hallway with no teachers on the premises.) And sure enough, in the Politics Blog, there's the drivel. Not relating to Gateway Pacific, but to growth management. A topic that I'm sure that we'll be returning to soon.

  8. What a pleasure to receive disparaging mention here, without references to my arguments, much less a counter-argument.

    Happy new Year!

  9. Happy New Year to you, too, D6!

    It appears that you are drinking some of that $60,000 KoolAid. We'll be publishing a real study in the next month, time permitting (I do this in my spare time).

    But seriously, enjoy the New Year. You seem to always have a frown! We are one community after all.