ANNAPOLIS -- The Chesapeake Bay is likely to be devastated by a large oil spill unless federal and state governments act promptly to tighten safety requirements for waterborne and pipeline transportation of fuel, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation warned today.
The environmental group released a report pointing out that barge and tanker traffic on the bay is exempt from much of the federal spill-prevention law passed by Congress in the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska five years ago.
About 4 billion gallons of petroleum products are transported on the Chesapeake every year, the report notes, and the volume is steadily rising on a body of water that is even busier than Prince William Sound, where the supertanker Exxon Valdez hit a reef and spilled nearly 11 million gallons of crude.
"We will have a catastrophic spill on the bay," predicted William C. Baker, president of the Annapolis-based foundation. "It's only a matter of time."
By coincidence, a spill was reported early today in the southern branch of the Elizabeth River, which constitutes much of the port of Norfolk and feeds into the bay.
A ship's fuel tank cracked, spilling about 12,000 gallons of oil into the southern branch of the Elizabeth River, the Coast Guard said. The 8-inch crack in the liquid-petroleum tanker Isomeria was reported about 2 a.m.
The ship's petroleum cargo already had been removed, however, before the leak was discovered, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Renee Gordon.
By 10 a.m. workers had pumped most of the remaining 400,000 gallons from the damaged fuel tank into a nearby barge and into the ship's other tanks, another spokesman said. The Coast Guard did not know what caused the rupture.
The bay has had three major oil spills since 1976, the foundation's report noted.