First responders test tools, skills in mock oil spill response

May 8, 2018

In 2003, nearly 100,000 gallons of oil ended up in Buzzards Bay after Bouchard Barge 120 struck a bedrock ledge in the bay. It devastated marine and shorebird populations and left nearly 100 miles of shoreline damaged.

Back then, local communities were not prepared to jump into action in an oil spill response, but now first responders are getting first-hand preparation through state-of-the-art equipment and training exercises.

One such exercise occured on May 8 in Dartmouth. Emergency crews from Dartmouth, Westport, the state Department of Environmental Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, and several state contractors spent the day responding to a mock oil spill in the area of Apponagansett Park.

After spending the morning in the classroom learning how to use special booms and other hardware, crews put that training into action through a mock oil spill exercise. Crews deployed booms in special arrangements to to both divert and contain an imaginary oil spill, which was then tested with peat moss.

Since Bouchard, the state has stepped in to provide communities with tools to battle oil spills. Julie Hutcheson, Section Chief at the Department of Environmental Protection, said the agency distributed 83 trailers and 81,000 feet of booms to cities and towns along the coast, and has worked with communities to develop geographic response plans for each part of coastal Massachusetts.

"This all started because of Bouchard 120," Hutcheson said. "When it happened towns could do nothing."