Two Tips for Coping with Diesel in Waterways

It is easy to forget the U.S. Coast Guard has hazmat response capabilities. In early December, those skills were on display in the Outer Banks area near Duck, North Carolina.

The Coast Guard was charged with removing and containing 6,500 gallons of diesel fuel from a grounded fishing vessel as well as another 1,000 gallons of oily water, WCSC reported. Fortunately, most of the material stayed in the vessel, allowing the Coast Guard to focus on removing the product from the boat. State agencies and private contractors also joined in to mitigate the environmental impact.

Also Read: Saltier Waterways Creating Chemical Cocktail

On Dec. 6, the Coast Guard was called to South Carolina when a boat sank, discharging upwards of 100 gallons of fuel. Several private firms were involved with clean up.

And in early August a dredging barge overturned in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor. The 120-foot barge was carrying about 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel when it capsized. State and local agencies, private companies and local fire and hazmat teams responded.

Also Read: Update: Thousands of Gallons of Fuel Spilled into Jackson River

Where available, the Coast Guard is a great hazmat resource. Depending on the location and the body of water involved, local fire and hazmat teams may well be first on scene at a spill. Here are two tips to help your hazmat team better respond to diesel oil spill in a navigable waterway.


Move quick. Diesel is much lighter than water. While that means it won’t readily sink, it will move quickly across the surface. According to NOAA, it will readily disperse in winds as low as 7 knots. The good news about diesel is that between 40% and 65% of the spill will evaporate. Most of the remainder will disperse in the water, with a small amount attaching to particles and sinking. The percentage that sinks goes up for rivers that carry more sediment than in open waterways with less sediment.


Practice deploying absorbent booms quickly and in areas where spills are most likely to occur. This could be low-lying areas susceptible to runoff from a truck spill. That involves deploying from land, water or both, given your team’s capabilities and equipment. Whenever possible, train with Coast Guard, state and regional environmental agencies, private environmental companies and anyone else likely to be called to this type of emergency. And know where to locate additional resources in the event your team is overwhelmed.

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