Oil spill a grim reminder

November 13, 2020

As if the coronavirus, a suffering economy, civil unrest and a contentious presidential election aren’t enough, Delaware’s beaches for the past three weeks have had to deal with an insidious oil spill first discovered at Broadkill Beach Oct. 19. The 250 gallons of heavy oil thought to be floating just below the surface spread all the way from Bowers Beach on Delaware Bay southward to Maryland’s Assateague Island State Park.

Federal, state and local agencies combined efforts to clean up the spill.  More than 150 people labored daily for more than two-and-a-half weeks to locate and remove oil-coated debris and tar balls. Those efforts yielded 75 tons of polluted sand that required removal. 

What has made the effort so frustrating are the steady incoming and outgoing tides that bring new coatings of oil. The bigger gobs of oil and coated debris are relatively easy to spot and remove. Many who have been on the beach, however, report that finer and barely visible slicks of oil in the sand end up clinging to bare feet and shoes further amplifying the spill’s negative effects as it is tracked away from the beach into vehicles and houses.

Investigations continue to narrow down the source of the oil spill through a sophisticated process known as petroleum fingerprinting. Finding the source won't erase the environmental and economic damage caused by the spill, but it may allow the levying of fines to pay for the millions of dollars spent in the clean-up and investigation that will otherwise have to be borne by taxpayers.

The oil spill is just one more overt reminder of how critical a clean environment is to our coastal economy, how vulnerable we are due to the millions of barrels of crude oil regularly passing so close to our beaches in tankers every day, and, if 250 gallons of heavy oil cause this much trouble, just how catastrophic a major oil spill would be.

We cannot afford to ease our environmental vigilance and surveillance for a single minute.          

  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Dennis Forney, Publisher Emeritus, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, CoPublisher and Editor; Dave Frederick, Sports Editor Emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, Associate Editor; Nick Roth, Sports Editor; and Chris Rausch, CoPublisher and General Manager.

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