UPDATE: DNREC responding to oil spill near Broadkill Beach

Emergency crews from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control have been dispatched to Broadkill Beach after an oil spill was reported Monday. (Delaware Surfrider Foundation/Kevin Chandler)

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BROADKILL BEACH – As the effects of an oil spill spread farther south along Delaware’s coastline on Tuesday, Kevin Chandler couldn’t help but worry about a natural habitat being invaded.

“It’s difficult because the wildlife goes through life ignorant of whether there’s been an oil spill and how it may be feeding amongst tarballs,” the Delaware Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation chairman said after visiting the oil’s initial arrival point at Broadkill Beach.

At least the impact was negligible so far, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control said in an update Tuesday.

DNREC noted that “there have been no reports or sighted impacts to wildlife and that the vast numbers of shorebirds and horseshoe crabs that flock to the bay’s coast each summer have departed on their annual migration elsewhere.”

On Monday night, DNREC reported that perhaps five barrels (or about 215 gallons) had entered the water from an unknown source and washed ashore at Broadkill Beach. That estimated amount could rise as the emergency response continued, DNREC said.

DNREC described the oil as “heavy fuel oil” that likely leaked from an operating vessel, not crude oil from a tanker’s hold.

Debris from an oil spill found on Broadkill Beach Monday night. (Delaware Surfrider Foundation/Kevin Chandler)

Witnessing the impact of Monday’s amount, Mr. Chandler said he was worried for what could happen in a bigger spill.

“If five barrels can make this much of a mess, I would hate to see what 300 barrels would do,” he said. “I’m sure the Delaware Bay will bounce back from this and get cleaned up but my real concern is the potential of what can happen if a far larger event occurs.”

The spill spanned up to seven miles of beach on Tuesday morning compared to three-quarters of a mile on Monday night, DNREC said.

An overnight high tide carried oil into the Delaware Bay, and it was dispersed along the coast by noon Tuesday, DNREC said. The areas included Beach Plum Island near Cape Henlopen, the Roosevelt Inlet and Lewes.

According to Mr. Chandler, while he saw fist-sized tarballs on Broadkill Beach on Monday, the ones seen the next day “seemed to be smaller and broken up more as (the oil) spread.

“It got worse overnight.”

The tide fragmented oil from large pools into smaller-sized speckling spots on the beaches on Tuesday, DNREC said.

DNREC teamed with the U.S. Coast Guard in an emergency cleanup response aimed at clearing oil before another tide swept more oil into the bay, said DNREC spokesman Michael Globetti. Coast Guard contractors were at work as well, he said.

The cleanup will likely take multiple days. DNREC said globs and pools of oil must be removed from beaches manually.

DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin asked that the public continue to report any oil sighted on or offshore to DNREC’s toll-free environmental hotline at 800-662-8802.

On Tuesday, DNREC supplied the Coast Guard with oil samples for analysis for a “petroleum fingerprint.”

The Delaware State Police Aviation Unit assisted DNREC in determining the size of the spill on Monday, Mr. Globetti said.