Monday, January 29, 2001
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Posted on: Monday, January 29, 2001

O'ahu oil spill heads for Kaua'i

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Tesoro Hawaii employees worked throughout the day yesterday with state and federal officials to contain an early-morning oil spill off Barbers Point.

Coast Guard Capt. Gilbert Kanazawa, right, showed Tesoro Hawaii incident commander David Hoffman the position of the spill yesterday as the oil company and public officials mobilized a cleanup.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

The spill happened about 7:15 a.m. while the tanker Overseas Chicago was moored at a buoy 1 1/2 miles offshore, transferring crude oil through hoses and undersea pipelines to a Tesoro refinery at Barbers Point.

Government and Tesoro executives estimated 15 barrels, or about 630 gallons of oil, leaked into the ocean. The leak was relatively small, the Coast Guard said.

Gary Gill, deputy director of the state Department of Health’s environmental health administration, said this is the second time Tesoro has spilled oil from its mooring point off Barbers Point.

The first spill, involving more than 100 barrels of oil or about 4,200 gallons, was significantly larger than yesterday’s spill. It happened in 1998 and resulted in "tar balls" washing up on miles of Kauai’s shoreline.

Early yesterday afternoon, Tesoro and government officials said they thought the spill was being blown southwest, away from the Islands, by the trade winds.

Later last night, Gill said a buoy placed in the oil slick showed currents were moving it toward Kauai.

Gill said the spill’s impact on Kauai — which may be visible in about a week — probably will be less than that of the 1998 spill, not only because yesterday’s was about one-tenth the size of the earlier spill but also because a new dispersant system was used against yesterday’s spill.

State Health Director Bruce Anderson said it was the first time the dispersant has been used in Hawaii. State and federal officials will accompany Tesoro investigators on a helicopter flight at 8 a.m. today to determine whether further measures are required.

Teams of veterinarians are standing by to treat sea birds or mammals, should they become exposed to the oil. Last night, birds and whales seemed to be avoiding the area.

Malfunctioning coupling may be culprit

Tesoro officials said yesterday’s spill was caused by what appeared to be a malfunction in a coupling. The coupling appeared to work properly until early yesterday morning.

The 1998 spill was caused by a cut transfer line at the mooring.

The Overseas Chicago had begun offloading 600,000 barrels of crude on Friday afternoon, Tesoro officials said. The ship had nearly completed its 36-hour off-loading when its crew and the crews of two petroleum company ships noticed that couplings on a transfer hose had separated.

Pressure gauges at the refinery also indicated a separation, said David Hoffman, Tesoro incident commander.

The hose couplings have a built-in safety feature that closes off the hose in the event of a disconnection. It is designed to seal the hose within 4.6 seconds, Hoffman said.

The transfer hoses and lines pump 22,000 barrels an hour from ship to refinery.

Even though the couplings appeared to have sealed off quickly, Tesoro, the Coast Guard and state health officials will investigate to ensure that the safety feature operated as expected.

Hoffman said that on discovering the spill, the tanker immediately shut off its pumps. The refinery then took action to remove oil already in the pipeline.

Crews of the Overseas Chicago and two Tesoro boats involved in the transfer operation, a tug and a work boat, then threw down oil-absorbent mats or booms to limit the spill’s spread.

The Clean Islands Council, a consortium of petroleum companies, dispatched its 140 foot, specially equipped boat to fight the spill. Tesoro hired three additional boats to assist.

At about 4:15 yesterday afternoon, hired helicopters joined the effort, spraying chemical dispersant over the spill.

"We regret this incident occurred and we are doing everything we can to correct it," Hoffman said.

A Chevron oil spill that leaked into Pearl Harbor in 1996 released 41,000 gallons of oil into the water. The 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, one of the worst in modern history, released more than 11 million gallons of oil.

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