Coalition helping to solve ‘mystery’ oil spills problem in New Bedford Harbor

Every day, New Bedford Harbor buzzes with activity. As the nation’s number one fishing port, New Bedford ships haul in over $350 million worth of seafood each year. At the same time, the city is constructing a major new dockside facility to support offshore wind energy development. The historic port is also a major recreational boating hub, with over 500 moorings and nearly 200 slips.

oil spill in New Bedford Harbor

First responders use absorbent pads to clean up a small “mystery” oil spill in New Bedford Harbor.

With all that activity packed into a few square miles of water, it might be tempting to let some pollution problems go. But that’s not the approach New Bedford’s Harbor Development Commission (HDC), the Coalition, and other local partners are taking when it comes to the problem of small oil spills.

The main reason: When left alone, these small spills – many are about 5 gallons of oil – add up to a big problem for the harbor.

Since 2010, the Coast Guard has recorded at least one reported oil spill in New Bedford Harbor every month. In some months, there have been as many as five small spills. In over 60 percent of these cases, no responsible party was ever identified, earning them the label “mystery spills.”

To address this problem, the HDC convened a group of partners including local public safety agencies, the U.S. Coast Guard, commercial fishermen, and the Coalition. This diverse group came up with a two-pronged approach to the problem, which has received funding from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to implement as a pilot project next year.

Part one of the plan includes reaching out to the more than 400 primarily offshore fishing vessels that call New Bedford Harbor home. This education initiative will cover best practices for fueling ships and managing waste oil along with a review of the rules and regulations for reporting and cleaning up spills.

Part two of the plan is to invest in a free resource for commercial vessels to dispose of bilge water that may be contaminated with oil. The HDC will contract with a local company to provide a truck to service all docks and remove contaminated bilge water for disposal at an oil recycling facility. Contaminated bilge water is considered the most likely source of mystery spills in the harbor.

Toxic oil pollution can have serious and lasting effects on our environment. Your ongoing support is critical to help the Coalition fight for protections against large oil spills in Buzzards Bay while also finding solutions to small mystery spills in New Bedford Harbor.

Category: On the Bay

Current Issues

Oil Spills

New laws and better plans have made the Bay safer from oil today than it was 10 years ago. But oil spills remain a constant threat. That’s why the Coalition continues to advocate for the strongest possible protections for Buzzards Bay.

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Working to Save Buzzards Bay

The Buzzards Bay Coalition is a membership-supported organization dedicated to improving the health of the Buzzards Bay ecosystem for all through education, conservation, research, and advocacy.

We work to protect clean water on the Bay and on the land: