Clean-Up Continues on Shishmaref Fuel Spill, Source Still Unknown

Shishmaref nearshore fuel spill and absorbent boom. (Photo: Richard Kuzuguk)
Shishmaref nearshore fuel spill and absorbent boom. (Photo: Richard Kuzuguk)

Local responders and the Coast Guard continue cleaning up the oily substance floating off the coast of Shishmaref.

Amanda Barnett is a Marine Science Technician Third Class with the Coast Guard and was on the island Friday June 13, replacing sections of absorbent boom.

“There was definitely chunking and kind of like a foaming type when we came last week,” Barnett said, describing the emulsified oil. “And this week when we got eyes on scene, it was more of a sheen. There wasn’t as much of the yellow foam and thickness. Now it’s pretty much just a rainbow sheen that’s getting flushed in with the tides, and that’s what we’re trying to absorb with the boom and pads.”

Four hundred feet of boom line the north shore of the island. The boom sits three feet offshore, confining most of the product.

“We haven’t been able to see any sheen past the boom line this time since we’ve been out,” said Barnett. “So we’re pretty confident that we’re able to trap most of it that’s still remaining within our boom configuration.”

The sheen covers about a 1,200 foot area of nearshore ice with an estimated 100 gallons of product spilled. The Coast Guard first responded to the spill two weeks ago, June 5, after Shishmaref Village Police Officer Barret Eningowak reported “a sheen on the nearshore icepack with a gasoline odor” to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Barnett said the Coast Guard has not located the source of the spill, but identifies the substance as a type of fuel.

Richard Kuzuguk is with the Shismaref Environmental Program and said residents can still smell the gasoline-like odor throughout the community. “The odor,” Kuzuguk said,  “is still present. The only time it’s really recognizable or when it causes a lot of attention is when the wind shifted.”

The ice surrounding the spill is in breakup. When the ice floes clear, Barnett said the investigative team can determine if the fuel source is coming from beneath the ice.

Barnett and Kuzuguk said they have received no reports of wildlife being affected by the sheen.

Samples of the product are being compared to petroleum samples from the Shishmaref tank farm at the Coast Guard Marine Safety Lab in Connecticut.