Hurricane Dorian Oil Spill in Bahamas Has Spread to the Sea

The South Riding Point facility in Grand Bahama Island on September 9, 2019. You can still see the black oil spilled out and across the land nearby.
The South Riding Point facility in Grand Bahama Island on September 9, 2019. You can still see the black oil spilled out and across the land nearby.
Image: ©2019 Maxar Technologies

Clean up and assessment of an oil spill on Grand Bahama Island following Hurricane Dorian has begun—and the oil may have traveled beyond land and into the sea.

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When the Category 5 storm struck the Bahamas, its powerful winds and fury were enough to tear the South Riding Point oil terminal up. Five of the facility’s oil storage tanks had their dome covers blown off, letting oil out and onto the ground. The Norway-based company that owns the terminal, Equinor, still hasn’t given an estimate for how much oil has spilled, but the land surrounding the facility.

The oil facility also sits on the southern coast of the island, right next to the ocean. The company has spotted oil some 40 to 50 miles northeast of the facility, according to a press release out Wednesday. Equinor is still trying to investigate whether this oil came from its facility. There is another oil facility on the island, but Equinor’s is closest to where the slick was spotted. The other major oil facility on the island reported only minor damage from Dorian and no signs of any spills or leaks.

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Currently, Equinor has “no indications of ongoing leaks from the tanks, and no indications of oil from the terminal observed in the water near the terminal,” Erik Haaland, a press spokesperson for the company, said in an email to Earther. “Although the source of this product is not known, Equinor will investigate and further evaluate necessary actions, including mobilization of suitable equipment and resources.”

In an attempt to make up for the damages this spill has caused to Grand Bahama, the company is now donating $1 million to Hurricane Dorian relief efforts, though Equinor still hasn’t decided where exactly the money will go. While it works on making its mind up about that, the company has plenty of work to do.

More than 40 people have been on-site since Tuesday to start cleaning up the mess. By Thursday, another vessel will arrive at the facility with more sophisticated equipment to aid in the clean-up efforts. Already, crews have begun cleaning up the oil just chilling on the ground into one of the tanks on site.

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Unfortunately, petroleum doesn’t just hang out and do nothing when it enters the natural environment. This gunk is toxic and can hurt any wildlife or flora exposed to it. It can slowly biodegrade over time, Ralph Portier, a distinguished professor of environmental science at Louisiana State University, wrote in an email to Earther. That can take some 30 years for oil that winds up in sediment, as a study earlier this year found.

And that oil in the ocean? It spells trouble for marine life. The storm helped dilute and disperse the oil, explained Portier, but that oil can still have long-term impacts on the coral reef communities that surround the Bahamas. That sucks for the fish, of course, but also for people in the Bahamas depend on these reefs for the fish they catch, sell, and eat, too.

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Someone needs to remove oil from the waters around the Bahamas, or the impacts may be felt throughout the food chain—all the way to us.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

theblightofgrey
TheBlightOfGrey

I looked at some other sites because the photo here appears to show the tanks have little to no secondary containment around the tanks which is required in the USA ( Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) regulation (40 CFR Part 112)). Other photos I found, one on a Bloomberg site, showed there is very little containment at the base of the tanks (if any) which is shocking given the proximity to the ocean. Those ASTs sometimes (usually?) have “floating” roofs so they can move up and down with the contents of the tank. So it’s not inconceivable they just floated away in the wind and then the wind basically blew the oil out of the tanks. The plume looks to head inland because the wind was onshore. Who knows. You’d think a country that relies on its natural beauty for most of its income would do a better job at spill prevention.