Cleanup of Delaware Bay oil spill continues

Matt Higgins, an environmental scientist with DNREC, surveys the scene on the Delaware Bay where cleanup efforts continued Wednesday after an oil spill hit the Broadkill Beach area Monday night and has since spread. A unified command consisting of the United States Coast Guard and DNREC was established on the Delaware Bay coastline between Fowler Beach and Cape Henlopen. (Submitted photo/DNREC)

SLAUGHTER BEACH — As an oil spill cleanup continued Wednesday, at least 24 affected seagulls had been seen during a response that included state and federal resources and more than 75 contractors, officials said.

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control also said that roughly two tons of oil sand and debris were removed from affected areas as of 7 p.m. Tuesday.

A DNREC and United States Coast Guard command post was established at the Slaughter Beach Volunteer Fire Department in response to an incident involving oil patties that washed up along various Delaware Bay coastline areas between Fowler Beach and Cape Henlopen, DNREC said.

Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research was assisting with the birds that were affected by the oil, DNREC said. A news release described the birds as being “oiled.

A DNREC vehicle drives through oil patties along the Delaware Bay coastline Wednesday. (Submitted photo/DNREC)

Crew members from DNREC, the U.S. Coast Guard and contractor Lewis Environmental were conducting cleanup efforts and assessing the oil spill’s shoreline and waterway impact, according to an update.

As a result of the cleanup efforts, the four-wheel drive surf fishing crossing at Delaware Beach Plumb Island Preserve near Cape Henlopen was closed, DNREC said.

“We are focused on cleanup operations and getting the oil off our beaches and out of our coastal communities as quickly as possible,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin, who evaluated the areas in person on Wednesday.

“Expediency is key. We want to capture as much of the oil as we can before it disperses further and causes more environmental harm. We’re thankful for the dedicated staff from our different divisions who rushed into the breach to assist DNREC’s Emergency Response and Prevention Section with their cleanup mission.

“To accomplish it, we have put additional resources into the collaboration with our federal partners the U.S. Coast Guard.”

According to Coast Guard Incident Commander Lt. Cmdr. Fred Pugh, “The formation of a unified command brings together partner agencies and response organizations to effectively conduct response efforts in an efficient and expeditious manner.

“We currently are working to attempt to identify the source of the oil, and we are continuing to work together to adapt and respond to the dynamic nature of this spill,” Lt. Cmdr. Pugh said.

DNREC advised the public how to handle any product found or attempt to assist wildlife, and ask anyone to report findings to its environmental hotline at 1-800-662-8802.

On Tuesday, DNREC said that an oil spill that came ashore at Broadkill Beach the day before had spread south to coastal locations near Beach Plumb Island, the Roosevelt Inlet and Lewes.

On Wednesday, the source of the oil remained unknown, DNREC said. Its Emergency Management Response section earlier described as a “heavy fuel oil” that likely leaked from an operating vessel, not crude oil from a tanker’s hold.

The U.S. Coast Guard was examining oil samples to determine a “petroleum footprint,” DNREC said Tuesday.

The spill was first seen to be three-quarters of a mile on Monday night, according to DNREC, and spread up to seven miles by Tuesday morning

While DNREC estimated on Monday night that five gallons may have spilled, it said Tuesday that the estimate could grow. No update was immediately available Wednesday.