Last week's oil spill in San Francisco makes one thing painfully clear: we should, and don't, know better.
The early story was that the spill wasn't much. The main question addressed in just-after coverage was whether the Cosco Busan's collision with the Bay Bridge would affect traffic. The spill total? 140 gallons. That's a bundle of fill-ups, not good for the Bay by any stretch, but handleable, especially given the resources available, Coast Guard and otherwise. The clean-up? A month, said the rep from Fish and Game.
The cargo ship, en route to South Korea, hit the bridge at 8:30 Wednesday morning, but it wasn't until nearly 5pm that the Coast Guard realized that not 140 but 58,000 gallons of bunker oil (essentially container-ship fuel) were loose in the Bay, constituting the largest spill in the area in almost two decades. The spill, which inexplicably wasn't contained via a boom for hours, thus was spreading in all directions, including several miles out through the Golden Gate and into the open ocean.
The one benefit of oil in water is that because of the separation it's initially easy to track and, where response is swift, contain. So why wasn't a boom, which would have isolated the spill to the area directly surrounding the ship, utilized almost immediately? No telling yet, but early on Fish and Game said that private companies would handle the spill cleanup, companies hired by the ship's owners. Huh? That's the proper response an environmental and homeland security hazard? Let the industry mop up?