Ten years after the Cosco Busan oil spill: Preparedness and response improved; $30M in environmental restoration ongoing

November 1, 2017


Contact: Eric Laughlin, CDFW Communications, (916) 214-3279

SAN FRANCISCO – This month marks a decade since the container ship Cosco Busan crashed into a San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge support tower and released more than 53,000 gallons of fuel oil into San Francisco Bay, affecting people, estuarine and marine wildlife, habitats, and recreation across several counties and spurring an extensive spill response effort and ongoing natural resource restoration work.

Lessons learned from the Cosco Busan spill have led to improvements in regional spill response including better coordination among local, state, and federal responders; the region is better prepared today to handle an oil spill of that magnitude. Restoration of damaged natural resources and lost recreation from the incident has been substantial and includes dozens of ongoing or completed projects throughout the Bay and outer coast that were selected with public input. A multiagency “Trustee Council” that includes California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California State Lands Commission, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service has been actively identifying and implementing projects with spill settlement funds.

“There are now much stronger alliances between all stakeholders in spill response, ranging from the various levels of government, to industry, to environmental organizations, to concerned members of the public,” said Thomas Cullen, administrator of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW-OSPR). “Great work has also been done to enhance habitat and recreation using restoration funds recovered from the incident.”

Spill Response

Many of the measures implemented since the incident bolster spill response and preparedness capabilities at the local government level; one active grant provides fully equipped spill response equipment trailers to local responders to protect resources in the early stages of a spill, and another provides funds to local agencies to join state and federal partners in ongoing oil spill contingency planning.

Local government has also been incorporated into the Unified Command structure managing response to oil spills in California, which has traditionally only included the U.S. Coast Guard, CDFW-OSPR, and the responsible party. Through a “Local Government On-Scene Coordinator,” cities and counties are better represented and able to provide local expertise during an incident.

CDFW-OSPR expanded its volunteer program to include opportunities beyond caring for oiled wildlife and developed an online volunteer registration tool to be activated during oil spills. To bolster public information and warning during an oil or hazardous substance spill, the agency introduced an incident website (CalSpillWatch.com), and social media presence (@CalSpillWatch) to provide live updates during incidents. Photos, briefs, updates, and news are posted regularly.

“Some of Baykeeper’s main concerns during the 2007 spill response were that local agency coordination and public communication were lagging,” said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, Executive Director of San Francisco Baykeeper. “We’re pleased that there is now a system in place to involve local agencies so that they can effectively protect Bay shorelines from oil, and that there are ways for the public to get live updates on the progress of spill cleanup efforts.”

At the state legislative level, Assembly Bill 1112 added spill prevention staff to ports in San Francisco and Los Angeles/Long Beach to ensure safer operations during ship bunkering (taking on fuel) and lightering (off-loading oil from larger to smaller vessels) activities in the ports.

Federal and industry-level changes made since the Cosco Busan incident continue to enhance joint spill response and planning in the Bay Area. The Coast Guard constantly reviews its response and prevention practices, and since the initial changes that were implemented in the year following the Cosco Busan incident, has added measures to further prevent such an incident. These include adding a critical maneuvering area at the west span of the San-Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge and leveraging improved technologies available with the Automatic Identification System, a satellite-based vessel tracking system that supplements marine radar for collision avoidance.

“The federal, state, and local response community in the San Francisco Bay area is one of the strongest I’ve ever seen,” said Capt. Tony Ceraolo, commander of Coast Guard Sector San Francisco. “The maritime community in this region is likewise highly organized and holds safety as a top priority.  I especially applaud the San Francisco Bay and Delta Area Committee for its work on navigation safety, spill prevention and spill response planning.”

Natural Resource Restoration

(Download illustrated ‘Cosco Busan 10 years later’ flyer here:



A settlement with Regal Stone Limited and Fleet Management Ltd., the owners and operators of the Cosco Busan, designated over $30 million to a variety of projects to restore injured natural resources and compensate for recreational opportunities lost due to the oil spill.

Restoration projects underway include endangered species restoration, habitat creation for birds, and restoration of beach and tidal habitats that support fish, native oysters and eelgrass.

Examples include:

-Marbled murrelets, critically-endangered seabirds that nest in old-growth redwood trees, often face egg predation by ravens and jays. A multi-year restoration project in Grizzly Creek Redwoods and Humboldt Redwoods State Parks includes infrastructure improvements in campgrounds and picnic areas as well as visitor education and outreach to reduce human food waste that supports murrelet nest predators. Refer to the Trustee Council newsletter for details on another Marbled Murrelet restoration project in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

-At Aramburu Island, the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary is restoring habitat for birds, harbor seals, native vegetation and native oysters. Many shorebirds have returned to the restored island, with black-necked stilts, killdeer and black oystercatchers nesting successfully. An existing harbor seal development has been improved and harbor seals have been observed returning to the development.

-At Muir Beach, the National Park Service re-routed the beach access trail that bisected and trampled the dunes. This project decreases damage to the dunes, increases the dune restoration footprint, and improves accessibility. In areas of degraded dune habitat, invasive weeds were reduced, sand fencing was installed to reestablish dune formation and native dune species were planted. Visitors also can enjoy improved access to a new picnic area, a new pedestrian bridge and boardwalk to the beach, new trails, improved restrooms and a new parking lot, funded in part by Cosco Busan. These improvements, combined with wetland and dune habitat restoration, enhance both the visitor’s experience and natural resources at this beautiful beach.  

The Council is reviewing several proposals to enhance surf scoter habitat and to expand ongoing restoration of eelgrass in San Francisco Bay. Eelgrass beds provide important habitat in the Bay and are key nurseries for shellfish, herring, and other species of fish.

The Cosco Busan Trustee Council also has allocated over $13 million to recreation projects around the Bay and outer coast, with 41 projects being either complete or ongoing. For more projects and additional information on those mentioned, visit the Cosco Busan restoration webpage and Restoration Plan at: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/OSPR/NRDA/cosco-busan

U.S. Coast Guard photographs for media use:

CG Patrols near CB — https://www.dvidshub.net/image/1084893/coast-guard-patrols-near-cosco-busan

CB Damage — https://www.dvidshub.net/image/1084727/cosco-busan-oil-spill-4

Beach clean – https://www.dvidshub.net/image/1084790/oil-cleanup

Fishing vessel assists response — https://www.dvidshub.net/image/1084773/cosco-busan-oil-spill

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA)https://erma.noaa.gov/southwest/erma.html#/layers=35225+36834+36822&x=-126.03190&y=42.50188&z=5&panel=layer


Grove Incident Cleanup Standards Met; Bioremediation Being Applied in the Next Phase of the Operation

Unified Command – Grove Incident
For Immediate Release

Ventura, Calif. –The Unified Command overseeing the June 23 Grove Incident pipeline spill in Ventura verified that the manual cleanup endpoints have been met.

As part of the Unified Command’s ongoing commitment for an effective response, operations are moving from physical cleanup methods to a bioremediation technique that accelerates the natural degradation of oil in the environment.

Cleanup personnel will apply a product known as “Micro-Blaze.” It contains a blend of wetting agents, nutrients and several strains of safe, non-pathogenic Bacillus bacteria that will degrade the remaining contaminants into smaller molecules to speed their decomposition. The byproducts from this process are harmless to people and the environment, and include carbon dioxide, water and trace salts. Micro-Blaze is listed by the EPA on the National Contingency Plan Product Schedule and is licensed by the state of California.

Restoration activities are expected to begin in late-September.  The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, Ventura County Watershed Protection District and CDFW are included in the long-term restoration plan.

Cleanup endpoint standards included:

  • No free oil in areas that are accessible
  • Oil stain in creek soil that does not produce a rainbow sheen
  • Rocks free of an oil coating (a stain is permissible)
  • Natural degradation of remaining oil poses low risk to humans, natural resources and cultural/historical artifacts

Manual cleanup was also constrained by the need to keep workers safe and preserve the sensitive barranca walls.  Therefore, excavation and sediment removal was limited in some areas.


The Grove Incident occurred on June 23 in the Hall Creek channel. A pipeline owned by Crimson Pipeline released approximately 1,075 barrels of light crude into a gorge referred to as Prince Barranca, or the Hall Creek channel.

Cleanup has been complicated by the steep walls of the barranca. However, all of the pooled liquid product has been recovered. The volume of oil in excavated soil, vegetation and other materials will be quantified and added to the final calculations of oil recovered. Previous cleanup techniques have included vacuuming, excavation and hand-scrubbing of stones.

Unified Command is a structure that brings together agencies that have spill response authority and organizations involved in a spill incident in order to coordinate an effective response, while allowing each to carry out their own jurisdictional, legal and functional responsibilities. The Unified Command for the Grove Incident includes the Office of Spill Prevention and Response, US Environmental Protection Agency and Crimson Pipeline.

For more information on the Grove Incident, visit Cal Spill Watch.

Contact: Eric Laughlin, OSPR PIO, 916-214-3279

Update: Grove Incident Progress Report

Unified Command

CDFW, Office of Spill Prevention and Response
Crimson Pipeline


A multi-agency response effort has been established in Ventura, where a pipeline spilled crude oil into a dry gorge near Grove Lane on June 23. The oil was contained before it could reach the ocean. A Unified Command is overseeing the ongoing cleanup operations.


 At the beginning of the response, the length of the spill was sectioned into four divisions to manage varying conditions in different areas. Division A is located at the top where the spill originated. Divisions B, C and D progress in order down the canyon. (Spill Division Map) Patriot Environmental Services and National Response Corporation Environmental Services removed oil from the spill area with vacuum trucks, hand shoveling, and other mechanical methods. Cleanup has progressed to hand cleaning of rocks. Geotechnical experts have conducted an inspection and are assessing methods for conducting remaining work safely. Following is current status for each division:

Continue reading

General Process Supporting Environmental Recovery

The priority of any cleanup effort is the safe and effective pursuit of “net environmental benefit.” Regulatory agencies, response experts and scientists use net environmental benefit analysis (NEBA) because some spill response cleanup options can be unacceptably destructive to plants, animals and habitats. These emergency responders compare the environmental consequences of natural recovery against the consequences to actively removing the oil in order to select the “best” and least harmful cleanup strategies to help the environment recover and benefit the public. This includes consideration of “bioavailability,” which means the degree, to which the oil can come into contact with, and potentially impact, wildlife and habitats. Options available range from extensive removal of soil and sediment, all the way to natural weathering. Other tools available to responders include washing, hand cleaning, vacuuming, use of absorbent pads and booms, etc. In some cases where the actions taken by responders and equipment could cause more damage to the wildlife, environment and responder safety, best practice could be allowing the oil to naturally degrade.

While “clean” means the oil has been substantially removed, sites may not be completely oil-free or fully recovered. Determining “how clean is clean” depends upon many criteria including ecological, toxicological, legal, and political criteria. Each spill is different so scientists look at many factors including, but not limited to, the following:

  • degree of oiling
  • type of oil
  • risk to receptors
  • cleanup technologies
  • habitat type (e.g., shoreline type/geomorphology)
  • species present
  • ecological factors
  • archeological factors
  • cultural resource issues
  • bioavailability of the oil
  • safety concerns (risk to human life to perform cleanup)
  • logistical issues
  • waste minimization issues
  • anticipated rate of natural “cleaning”
  • weather

Grove Incident

Emergency Response: During the emergency response of the Grove Incident, several earthen dams were constructed to limit the spread of the spill. Oil spill response contractors used vacuum trucks to remove pooled oil from the dry bed of the Hall Creek Channel.

Following removal of pooled oil controlled flushing and recovery operations occurred. Techniques included the use of hot water to more effectively remove oil from large boulders and cobbles. Vegetation was cut using hand tools to minimize disturbance of the natural surroundings.

Maintenance and Monitoring: These actions are still being engineered and discussed among regulatory agencies, response experts and scientists. They are looking closely at the dynamics of the creek during dry and wet conditions, the geologic stability of the creek boundaries, the animals and vegetation living in the area, and the residents and local community to find the most effective methods for clean-up for this response.