In February 2002, a Unified Command (UC) comprised of the United States Coast Guard (USCG), the California Department of Fish and Game's Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), and other state and federal agencies tested a sample of oil taken from the water near the wreck SS Jacob Luckenbach. Oil from this fifty-year-old wreck, submerged in 176 feet of water 17 miles off San Francisco, matched oil that had impacted thousands of birds and miles of shoreline since November 2001. It also matched oil from mystery spills in this area dating back to 1992. Now that the source of this extensive pollution was found, the next step seemed simple: remove the oil from the vessel. Yet there were many issues surrounding this vessel and its location that required significant cooperation with many agencies and trustees. The Luckenbach is an historic property, protected by the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). It is submerged in the Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary - one of the most biologically productive regions off the California coast and home to many sensitive resources including several listed species. The UC realized that dialogue with and among the natural resource trustee agencies was crucial to planning balanced operations that would remove the pollution source while providing the utmost protection available to the resources at risk A task force was formed that allowed trustees to engage in discussions about the tradeoffs of initiating removal as quickly as possible while balancing the risk of harm that any incidental release during operations may cause to their resources of concern. One of the most exciting benefits of this cooperative effort was the shift in thinking beyond just responding to the incident to advanced planning of a response that would best enhance restoration and long-term recovery. In many responses, it is not always clear that everyone has the same priorities: the USCG may focus on recovering oil and mitigating damage, the responsible party wants to minimize costs, and the trustees want to protect and restore their resources. In this case, the trustees and USCG were clearly working together toward common goals: removing a source of chronic oil pollution while minimizing environmental impacts from the response.
1 Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are solely those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the position of NOAA, the Department of Commerce, or the United States.