The Thursday morning, Aug. 31, after Hurricane Idalia made landfall, a discoloration of water was found at SeaPort Manatee.
The port notified the U.S. Coast Guard, which was due to inspect the port anyways that day so the port could reopen its shipping lanes following the hurricane. No restrictions were placed on vessel operations, but the St. Petersburg coast guard sector returned the following day with a response team to deploy booms, which are floating barriers used to contain oil spills.
“We’re looking at the water all the time,” Executive Director Carlos Buqueras says of the discovery. It was determined the discoloration was caused by refined oil in the water. Buqueras says the oil was in a corner of the port’s basin, “which is probably the best place to have it because it can be contained much more easily.”
As of 2 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7, the coast guard still hadn’t figured out the source of the spill.
“They’ve gone through our berths and they can’t find any source from the port,” he says.
Buqueras notes that 99% of the spill had been absorbed by a contractor hired by the coast guard. An endangered species analysis conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported the spill had not affected any fish or wildlife.
Since then, there hasn’t been any more oil leaked, contributing to the question of where it came from initially. Buqueras says even the fuel and power companies operating at the port ran tests to see if it was coming from those pipelines, but nothing was found.
“It is still a mystery,” he says.
Samples have been collected for type-testing to further the coast guard’s ongoing investigation, but Buqueras notes that the organization may never find the source.
“Interestingly enough, it happened after the hurricane, so who knows where it could have come from,” he speculates, before adding he wasn’t sure if it was possible for a storm to wash in oil into the port, further noting that the experts in this matter, the coast guard, has yet to name a source.
“It’s frustrating for us,” Buqueras says of the port’s involvement in the spill, “because we’re innocent bystanders in that we don’t handle the oil.”