Cleanup underway for oil leaks along Pensacola waterfront from storm-damaged vessels

Kevin Robinson Pensacola News JournalPublished 2:30 PM EDT Sep 23, 2020State and federal officials have been w

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State and federal officials have been working since last Friday to contain and clean up fuel and oil leaks from vessels that were damaged or submerged during Hurricane Sally.

Areas where oil sheens are known to have appeared on the waters surface include the Palafox Pier Marina, the Bayou Grande Marina and the Allen Williams Boat Yard near Joe Patti's Seafood in downtown Pensacola. 

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection received initial reports of sheening in Pensacola Bay on the afternoon Sept. 17, a day after Hurricane Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores, Alabama, and battered the Gulf Coast with up to 30 inches of rain.

In response, DEP personnel conducted site visits at nine marinas and fuel depots in the area Friday. The U.S. Coast Guard was also working Friday to install a boom in the areas with active sheening around the sunken vessels. 

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The department said it was also aware that fuel containing equipment from the Skanska barges was lost overboard and that there was a hydraulic oil/diesel release from a barge that ran aground near Bayou Texar.

A Skanska representative said the company would release more information about the status of cleanup involving its vessels Wednesday afternoon.

A private citizen reported several sunken vessels causing oil sheen in Bayou Texar and Escambia County emergency services reported that an overturned boat with 300 gallons of fuel was leaking into Pensacola Bay. Additionally, there were also multiple reports of sunken vessels and unknown sheen in the Santa Rosa Sound that could have potentially contributed to the sheen in Pensacola Bay. 

"The hurricane definitely knocked a lot of boats out of the water, sunk a lot of boats and did quite a bit of damage, but we've been really quickly able to get out there and assess all that," said Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Dustin Williams. "We've been able to get on scene and check that out and see what needs to be addressed immediately and start developing a timeline to start getting a lot of stuff taken care of."

DEP found the following impacts during its inspections Friday:

  • Palafox Pier Marina: Sunken vessels were noted and reported to U.S. Coast Guard. There were areas of sheen in the debris, which had concentrated at the southern end of the marina.  
  • Bayou Grande Marina: Four sunken vessels were located on the back of Naval Air Station Pensacola. One vessel was releasing unknown oils into the water. A hazmat response team was on scene and placed boom around the vessel to secure the sheen. 
  • Allen Williams Boatyard/Joe Patti Marina: The fuel dock at Allen William's seafood was destroyed but the line from the two diesel tanks had been shut off. There are multiple sunken shrimping vessels with active sheens. 
  • TransMontaigne fuel terminal: The facility reported no damage to storage tanks and components and there was no evidence of any release of product to ground or surface water. 
  • Daybreak Marina: The facility had no power and the fuel dock was damaged, but there was no sign of oil or fuel release. There were some sunken vessels, but there was visible sheen. 
  • Skanska Bayou Chico Yard: The facility was on generator power with no fuels spills at yard. Used sorbent — a material used to soak up spills — from barge incidents was being segregated for disposal.

Additionally, the DEP inspected chemical and material companies Kraton, Martin Mariett and Riechold and found no spills. 

The department did not identify a single source, although sheening was observed in multiple areas near sunken vessels. DEP staff are continuing to respond to reports of sheening, and the department is coordinating response efforts with the USCG and Florida Fish and Wildlife.

Williams said most of the cleanup itself will be done by contractors, and the Coast Guard would be overseeing the efforts to ensure they were done properly and up to standard. He said he did not have a hard timeline for when the sheen would be remediated.

"Some stuff has already been cleaned up, but a lot of things right now have been boomed off so it doesn't keep spread out and so it can be soaked up," Williams said. "... The most I could really say for sure is that we're hitting it pretty quickly, but it's going to be a lengthy process, because there's a lot of it out there, unfortunately."

Williams said state, federal and local agencies had been partnering well and the cleanup would be a team effort.

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DEP said it is continuing to assess and review what mitigating actions can be taken to prevent any further environmental harm and also if any preventative measures should have been taken prior to the storm to prevent releases.

"At this time, we have not identified any specific violations, but if it is determined that violations occurred, the department will hold the responsible party accountable by identifying necessary restoration and/or remediation actions, with the possibility of enforcement including fines or penalties for associated violations," DEP said in a statement.

If a sheen is observed in coastal waters, the public should call the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802 and/or the State Watch Office at 1-800-320-0519 to report it.

Kevin Robinson can be reached at or 850-435-8527.
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