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Oil Spill Prevention

oil covers the shoreline at Barneys Joy beach in Dartmouth
Oil covers the shoreline at Barneys Joy beach in Dartmouth after the 2003 Bouchard oil spill.

The only way to eliminate the devastating impacts of oil spills is to prevent them from happening. The Coalition has taken the lead to protect Buzzards Bay from future spills and to restore sites that have been contaminated in the past. Our advocacy and response efforts have led to a cleaner, safer Bay.

Keeping the Bay Safe from Oil

Legislation

Protect the Bay Oil Spill column 2 The Massachusetts Oil Spill Prevention Act (MOSPA) was passed unanimously by the Massachusetts State Legislature and signed into law in August 2004 by Governor Mitt Romney. The law, which the Coalition helped to draft, included mandatory tug escorts and navigational routes, as well as minimum staffing on oil tankers and barges.

Litigation

On January 18, 2005, the Federal Government filed a complaint in Federal District Court against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts challenging the Massachusetts Oil Spill Prevention Act. The Buzzards Bay Coalition intervened in order to assist the State in defending this landmark legislation.

Since then the Coalition and the Commonwealth have been fighting to maintain the protections in court and through subsequent legislation in 2008. Thanks to those efforts the Bay has been protected by escort tugs for most of that time. There has not been a major oil spill in Buzzards Bay in that time which demonstrates the effectiveness and the necessity of this law.

However the Coast Guard continues to fight to remove the number one protection against oil spills in Buzzards Bay: that all vessels carrying oil through the Bay are escorted by a tug to assist if needed.

On May 17, 2011, after years of motions, arguments, and appeals, the Court found that the U.S. Coast Guard violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it issued navigational rules for Buzzards Bay that were weaker than the original Massachusetts Oil Spill Prevention Act the Buzzards Bay Coalition drafted and helped pass in 2004.

Specifically, the decision directs the Coast Guard to do a further environmental analysis for their rulemaking and the Court lifted the injunction against the state on the enforcement of the 2004 MOSPA. This means the state can enforce the requirement of tug escorts for both single and double hull vessels and enhanced manning for tank barges and towing vessels. The now invalid 2007 Coast Guard rule required only tug escorts for single hulls, abandoning any new protections for the safe navigation of double hulls in Buzzards Bay.

In 2014 - ten years after the law was passed - the Coast Guard and the oil transport industry have renewed their efforts to invalidate MOSPA. The Coalition will continue to work with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to protect Buzzards Bay from oil spills.

Response Training

Protect the Bay - Oil Spill drill During the 2003 Bouchard 120 disaster, the state of Massachusetts and the Coast Guard designated the Coalition as the volunteer coordinator for the oil-spill response. As such, we coordinated the public reporting phone line and trained hundreds of volunteers in wildlife rehabilitation, shoreline assessment, and public outreach. We also participated in beach inspections on behalf of the towns of Dartmouth, Fairhaven, Mattapoisett, Marion, Bourne, Falmouth, and Fairhaven, plus Naushon Island. Our advocacy led to the enhancement of municipal participation in these shoreline inspections and resulted in additional cleanup.

On March 21, 2013, a vessel ran aground near the Stony Point Dike, spilling up to 350 gallons of gear oil into Buzzards Bay. The spill response included over a dozen local, state, and federal agencies and the Coalition. The rapid, aggressive response helped minimize the impact of this small spill. It is this type of response that the Coalition helped communities prepare for when we guided the creation of Geographic Response Plans for oil spills in Buzzards Bay in the wake of the Bouchard 120 spill nearly 10 years ago.

The Latest

Recent Legal Success

On May 17, 2011, the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in our favor that the U.S. Coast Guard violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it issued navigational rules for Buzzards Bay that were weaker than the original Massachusetts Oil Spill Prevention Act the Coalition drafted and helped pass in 2004.

Restoring Impacted Natural Resources

Protect the Bay - Oil Spill prevention 225x116The Coalition is working to guide $6 million dollars in settlement funds from the Bouchard Transportation Company to projects that will restore the resources most impacted by the spill. Top priorities include:

  • Funding for restoration of the Weweantic River in Wareham.
  • The protection of 400 acres of land on Nasketucket Bay in Mattapoisett and Fairhaven.