Barge Firm Is Big Oil Transporter

By JONATHAN BURKE

Bouchard Transportation Co., whose barge Number 120 deposited approximately 15,000 gallons of Number 6 diesel fuel into Buzzards Bay Sunday, is no stranger to the process they are now going through - clean-up and investigation.

On Feb. 21, Bouchard's barge Number 125 exploded while unloading 100,000 gallons of gasoline for Exxon-Mobil at a Staten Island oil storage facility. Two weeks later, another Bouchard barge caught fire while off-loading approximately 28,000 gallons from an adjacent barge. Following that incident, the U.S. Coast Guard pulled Bouchard barges in New York Harbor for inspections.

According to published reports, Bouchard, headquartered in Hicksville, N.Y., has had a number of accidents over the past decade.

In March of 2002, reported the Hicksville Illustrated News, one of Bouchard's vessels spilled 2,000 gallons of heating oil into the East River.

The incident cost Bouchard $1.3 million in clean up and a $75,000 civil penalty. The captain involved in the spill was fined $15,000 for operating the Bouchard vessel while intoxicated.

In 1993 in Tampa Bay, a Bouchard barge collided with two other vessels, spilling 300,000 gallons.

The News story said: "Three years later, a Bouchard-owned barge touched bottom in Boston harbor while another spilled gasoline in the Hudson River and a third leaked 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the Long Island Sound. In 1999, 4,000 gallons of oil spewed onto the Delaware River and exploded, while another incident occurred on the Hudson River."

The company has had a few failures in Buzzards Bay as well.

According to the Buzzards Bay Project, an organization dedicated to the protection of the watershed, Bouchard tanker Number 65 dumped 165,000 gallons of oil into the west end of Buzzards Bay after striking a "submerged object." The same tanker dumped an additional 81,000 gallons in eastern Buzzards Bay. And in 1990 another Bouchard barge spilled 100 gallons of oil over Cleveland Ledge.

Asked whether waterway accidents for a primary mover of oil like Bouchard should be expected, Anthony Palmiotti, director of continuing education at State University of New York Maritime, said, "The answer is always no."

That said, Mr. Palmiotti defended Bouchard, which sends many of its employees to his continuing education classes.

"They're a good company. They really do seem to take care of the equipment. They've got good equipment. That's been our experience," he said.

Richard Gurnon, commodore and vice president of student services at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, said, "This is the risk we run, and we don't think about this when we demand cheap oil. Bouchard should not be pilloried for spilling oil. It's an unavoidable function when you have humans and water and oil."

"If you get any chart of the region you'll see that the approaches to Buzzards Bay are littered with rocky outcroppings that come to within 22 feet of the water. Any time you are pushing one million gallons around in a boat that draws 32 feet you'll find that these areas are unforgiving to navigation mistakes," he said.

Mr. Gurnon said that the burden was on Bouchard to act promptly and implement an emergency response plan following Sunday's oil spill. Under a 1990 law, which evolved out of the Exxon-Valdez disaster in Alaska, all transporters of oil are required to execute certain notification procedures upon discovery of an oil spill.

The first notification goes to a national response center in Washington, D.C. which in turn notifies the local authorities. One of the next notifications will go to the people that the transportation company has on retainer to respond to a spill. In Bouchard's case, its lead company was Clean Harbor Environmental Services, a national environmental clean up company in Braintree.

According to Dan Mahanor, regional vice president of Clean Harbors, crews on the beach and crews on the water were taking direction from the Coast Guard in the clean-up process.

The Coast Guard has jurisdiction over the clean-up process and is charged with investigating the cause of the spill.

Josh Pennington, a Coast Guard lieutenant in the Marine Safety Office in Providence, said Bouchard's spill qualified as a "serious marine incident" because it involved the discharge of more than 10,000 gallons of oil, among other reasons.

Having met that threshold, Mr. Pennington said the captain and crew of the tug pulling barge Number 120 would be tested for drugs and alcohol. And he said if cause were found, Bouchard could be subjected to civil fines in addition to the clean up costs and the crew of the tug could have their licenses suspended or revoked.

The first order of business, though, said Mr. Pennington, was the clean up.

As remnants of the spill were reported entering Vineyard Sound on Wednesday, officials said anyone incurring a loss because of the spill may call 800-995-4045 to file a claim with Bouchard.