Here’s why Buzzards Bay needs to keep the strongest protections against oil spills

For 10 years, the Massachusetts Oil Spill Prevention Act has kept Buzzards Bay safe from oil spills. It includes common-sense protections like escort tugs for all vessels transporting oil through the Bay.

A recent incident on the Bay shows the importance of these protections, which were signed into law in 2004 after the Bouchard B-120 oil spill fouled nearly 100 miles of the Bay’s shoreline.

tug escorting an oil barge through Cape Cod Canal

Escort tugs, like the one shown here, can assist if things go wrong when transporting oil through Buzzards Bay.

On the morning of October 21, a tugboat was hauling a large barge loaded with 80,000 barrels of diesel. According to reports from the Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Protection, the barge, tug, and an escort tug were making their way up the Bay when they decided to anchor in the upper Bay because of incoming bad weather.

The tug detached from the front of the barge to get behind it and push – a typical maneuver to help barges get in place to anchor. But as the tug made a turn, it suffered a mechanical failure and lost all ability to steer.

The escort tug took over, guiding both the barge and the tug to the anchorage to wait out the storm. If this extra tug had not been there, the barge could have become loose in the Bay and drifted at the mercy of the weather.

This isn’t the first time such an incident has taken place. In fact, it’s a regular occurrence. Even if tugs and barges do everything right – like in this situation – problems can still happen. That’s why escort tugs are so important. They know the Bay, and they can assist if things go wrong.

But the Coast Guard and the oil transport trade association keep trying to weaken the escort tug rule, which is the most important protection against oil spills in the Bay. This past summer, the federal government and trade association asked the court to reopen a 2005 lawsuit challenging the oil spill prevention act. The Coalition and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts opposed this request, and the court has yet to make a decision.

We don’t want to let our Bay be at risk of another major oil spill. The Coalition will continue to defend these critical protections, but we can’t do it alone. By joining us, you can lend your voice to keep the Bay safe from the threat of oil spills.

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: