Cleanup of oil spill is down to coin-sized tar balls

DNREC released this photo today of a worker picking up tar balls by hand.
DNREC released this photo today of a worker picking up tar balls by hand.

Cleanup of the oil spill that was first spotted Oct. 19 at Broadkill Beach is now focused on coin- to pancake-sized tar balls that continue to wash up with the tide along miles of beach in Sussex County and Maryland’s Worcester County.

“The oily debris spreading along the coast is all from the original amount discovered, moved repeatedly by the waves and tide, and being broken into smaller pieces,” the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control tweeted today. “We don’t believe there is an ongoing or undiscovered patch of oil out in the bay or ocean.”

Crews have surveyed the stretch of coastline by air, land and sea.

In other developments out today:

• With oil found in Ocean City, the Maryland Department of the Environment has joined the cleanup with DNREC and the U.S. Coast Guard.

• The federal government has started a planned beach replenishment in South Bethany, which spurred DNREC to send a crew to comb that beach for any tar balls before it is covered by new sand.

• Tropical Storm Zeta may cause a pause in the cleanup. The unified command may suspend the cleanup operation while the storm passes through before resuming it over the weekend and continuing into next week.

• Lewes, Dewey Beach and Bethany Beach have closed their beaches until further notice. On beaches that are open, “beachgoers are strongly advised to stay out of the water and avoid walking along the wrack line, where oily debris is deposited by each high tide,” DNREC tweeted.

“We’re not sure how long oily debris will continue to wash up with the tide,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin, who was on scene today surveying oil on the Delaware beaches.

“Unfortunately, oil can be very persistent in the marine environment, but our environmental professionals are persistent too. They’re out there, working up and down the coastline, getting it out of the sand as much as possible,” he said. “We’re making progress.”

As of late Tuesday, cleanup crews of more than 100 personnel had successfully recovered about 65 tons of oily debris and sand from Delaware beaches.

“At this point in the response, we’re critically examining our resources, looking at the big picture and seeing where the greatest needs lie,” said Lt. Cmdr. Fredrick Pugh, federal incident commander for the response.

The unified command dispatched the cleanup crews to South Bethany on Tuesday, ahead of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which started a planned beach replenishment. Garvin also dispatched an advance crew of 15 DNREC personnel to comb the beach at South Bethany for tar balls and oil patties before new sand was pumped onto the beach there.

The Coast Guard has not ruled out any possible sources. The Coast Guard has sent samples of the oil to be analyzed by its Marine Safety Laboratory for a “petroleum fingerprint” that might help determine the source of the spill. If a source is identified, the responsible party would be required to reimburse the federal government for the cleanup operation.

The public is asked to report any findings of oil patties or oiled wildlife to DNREC at 800-662-8802 and the Maryland Department of the Environment at 866-633-4686.

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