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NOAA* RESPONDS TO INTERNATIONAL OIL SPILLS

September 23, 2006

Spills in Lebanon and Philippines Place Natural Resources at Risk

THE NOAA Office of Response and Restoration is working with the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Coast Guard to respond to recent international oil spill emergencies in Lebanon and the Philippines. NOAA’s Scientific Support Coordinators are at the forefront of emergency response efforts providing scientific support and comprehensive solutions to hazardous material releases in the marine environment. oil-spill-philipines-shore-08-2006-resized-1.jpg
A view of oil spill in Panay Gulf, located off the west coast of the central Philippines, photo courtesy NOAA

As the result of an Israeli missile attack on a power plant located on the Mediterranean coast, at least 4.6 million gallons of fuel oil were released into the surrounding coastal waters less than 20 miles south of Beirut, Lebanon. NOAA immediately responded with spill trajectory analyses, seasonal wind statistics, information on the behavior of submerged oil and general information on natural resources potentially at risk from the oil. This information is assisting the United Nations Environmental Program, European oil spill response community, Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Center for the Mediterranean Sea, and local Lebanese officials, in developing a cleanup strategy, including ways to address the impacts the oil will have on the region.

In a separate accident in the Philippines, the vessel M/T Solar I, spilled more than 100,000 gallons of fuel [bunker] oil and sank in nearly 2,300 feet of water in the Panay Gulf, located off the west coast of the central Philippines near Nueva Valencia. An additional 450,000 gallons of fuel remain in the vessel risking continued leaching into the Panay Gulf potentially threatening marine life and affecting the coasts of the Panay and Iloilos islands, including sensitive mangrove, seagrass beds and coral reef habitats.

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Aerial image of oil spill in Panay Gulf courtesy NOAA.

The State Department forwarded a request for assistance to USCG, which deployed a small contingent from the Pacific Strike Force to evaluate cleanup potential and requirements for spill response. NOAA’s Scientific Support Coordinator for the Northwest and Pacific region joined the USCG Strike Team on August 18 to assist with response. The team conducted observation flights and shoreline surveys to identify oiling locations and develop response cleanup strategies for an area that is underdeveloped with terrain that makes over-ground travel extremely difficult. The U.S. team is working with the Philippine Coast Guard, the oil company, Petron, and their contractors to improve response effectiveness and efficiency.

Currently, the rate of oil released from the vessel continues to decrease. NOAA is actively engaged in discussions to address shoreline cleanup and long-term remediation of oiled mangrove forest habitat.

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Ship responds to oil spill in Panay Gulf. Photo courtesy NOAA

There are currently 10 regional Scientific Support Coordinators within the NOAA Office of Response Restoration who organize NOAA resources in support of response efforts, and work with scientists from other public agencies, academia and the private sector to support operations when an oil or chemical spill occurs. Their capabilities include contingency planning; surface/subsurface trajectory forecasting and hindcasting; and resource risk analysis.

The NOAA Office of Response and Restoration supports oil and chemical spill response operations with the scientific recommendations required to reduce both the environmental harm and economic cost of emergencies. The office responds to more than 100 coastal emergencies each year.

In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. Starting with the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson much of America’s scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA. The agency is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

* National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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