- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 21, 2002

Cleanup crews were removing fuel oil as thick as molasses from dozens of Spanish beaches yesterday, as Spain and Portugal rushed to protect their coastlines and fishing grounds from an anticipated influx of oil spilled from a tanker that broke in half and sank off their coasts.
"This is a very significant spill there's probably a total of 2 million gallons of oil in the water, of which 1 million gallons were released just yesterday," said David Kennedy, director of the Office of Response and Restoration for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, referring to the bulk of the spill that occurred on Tuesday.
"Major, major efforts are required just to clean up, and these efforts involve a tremendous financial burden" for federal, state and local governments, he said in an interview.
Mr. Kennedy, who oversaw the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1989, said he has offered Spanish and Portuguese officials U.S. assistance with the cleanup of oil from the 44,000-ton Bahamian-flagged tanker, the Prestige. The vessel broke apart and sank Tuesday after initially sustaining a crack in its single hull and leaking oil during a storm Nov. 13.
But Spain's beaches got a bit of a break yesterday as no fresh oil spills were reported from the Prestige, and powerful winds blew much of the slick away from the coastline.
"There have been no new oil spills since the boat went down," Arsenio Fernandez de Mesa of the Galicia regional government told reporters. "The evolution of the slick is northward, and that's a good thing as it stays clear of the coast."
Asked to describe the cleanup efforts now under way, Mr. Kennedy said: "The majority of it involves manual labor backed up by front-end loaders. Hundreds of people are out there with shovels and buckets. They are taking the oil to staging areas," depending on other contaminants, such as sand and seaweed, which may be in it.
Stewart Ellis, of Virginia Beach, who has 20 years of hands-on experience with oil spills, said the waste "has to be treated and disposed of." Disposal is a "huge problem" said Mr. Ellis, whose Web site, cleanupoil.com, is an international directory of contractors who clean up oil spills.
Mr. Kennedy agreed with that assessment. He said a "large amount" of the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez "was sent to a landfill in Oregon."
Environmentalists fear birds and fish in the area along northwestern Spain, where the oil spill occurred, could be severely affected. They note that some creatures are unique to that area.
In comparing the Prestige's oil spill with that of the Exxon Valdez, which killed hundreds of thousands of animals, Mr. Kennedy noted that the Exxon tanker ran aground in "an extremely environmentally sensitive enclosed area," and 11 million gallons of crude oil, far more toxic than the oil aboard the Prestige, were released.
In contrast, he said, the viscous oil released from the Prestige was spilled in the "open ocean."
Nevertheless, he acknowledges the current spill could cause "all sorts of biological and socioeconomic" problems. He said this type of oil could "coat and smother" shellfish, such as oysters and clams.
He said the public is likely to steer clear of any "catch from the area" of the oil spill.
"They've already told hundreds and hundreds of fishermen in that area not to fish," Mr. Kennedy said.
Christopher Horner, a senior fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said he believes the human effect of this spill will be limited to the out-of-work fishermen.
But Mr. Ellis disagreed, saying: "People are going to have beach pollution. The oil is going into all the coves and bays."
Mr. Kennedy believes the spill could extend beyond the 50 miles of coastline already affected. "This spill could be very persistent and has the potential to significantly and adversely impact the environment of the coastline."
Mr. Kennedy, along with other oil spill specialists, said they remain concerned about the fate of another 20 million gallons of oil that is in a container that went down with the ship.


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