T/B APEX 3508: Best Practices for Detection and Recovery of Sunken Oil
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T/B APEX 3508: Best Practices for Detection and Recovery of Sunken Oil

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  • Journal Title:
    International Oil Spill Conference Proceedings
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    On September 2, 2015, two towing vessels collided on the Lower Mississippi River at Mile 937, near Columbus, Kentucky, resulting in the complete breach of the #3 starboard cargo tank on the T/B APEX 3508 and the release of 120,588 gallons of clarified slurry oil (CSO; Group V oil; Specific Gravity: 1.14) into the navigable waterway. The incident was classified as a Major Inland Spill in accordance with the National Oil and Hazardous Substance Contingency Plan and a Major Marine Casualty that was jointly investigated by the United States Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board. Over flights conducted as far as 20 miles downriver indicated only light, sporadic sheening for 1–2 days. On-water and shoreline assessments conducted up to six miles downriver revealed no visible signs of surface oiling. Based on its properties, the vast majority of the CSO was presumed to have sunk, but its precise disposition and location was not confirmed. Using side scan sonar (SSS) technology, two distinct subsurface anomalies with an approximate combined area of 9,200 m2 were identified on the river bed in the vicinity of the incident. The anomalies were confirmed as oil by divers and direct sampling, and were then divided into 25 m grids for identification and tracking. The Unified Command evaluated best available technologies and determined that GPS guided environmental dredging would be the safest, most effective and efficient of the recovery options. The established cleanup endpoint was a maximum of 10% sporadic oil distribution in each grid. Two endangered mussel species were identified as potentially inhabiting the affected area. A diver survey was conducted in the area and concluded that bottom habitat was not likely to support the listed species. Further consultations with the resource manager indicated that proposed recovery operations posed low risk to the species. Recovery operations commenced on September 15, 2015 and concluded on September 25, 2015. Endpoint verification was conducted via SSS. In total, response operations lasted 23 days (eight operational periods), involved over 120 responders and 75 specialized response assets, and cost approximately $5 million. Approximately 2,524 m3 of dredged material (liquid and solids) were removed. After decanting, approximately 1,730 m3of oiled solids representing approximately 50 to 75% of the spilled product was recovered. This case serves as a benchmark for sunken oil detection and recovery operations, and identified many best practices that should be considered on future cases with similar spill conditions.
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    International Oil Spill Conference Proceedings, 2017(1), 134-155
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