Recovery of tar mats using commercial shrimping boats during the Buffalo 292 spill
One of the greatest challenges facing responders to a recent intermediate fuel oil (IFO 380) spill was the recovery of tar mats and patties from the surface waters of the Gulf of Mexico before they could impact the barrier islands of Texas. When the marine barge Buffalo 292 spilled approximately 3000 barrels of IFO 380 in heavy weather conditions in Galveston Bay in March 1996, it is estimated that more than half of the spilled IFO 380 was swept out into the Gulf of Mexico by high northerly winds. There was great success in tracking the oil as it moved around the Gulf and eventually formed into large tar mats and patties. The overall weathered condition of the IFO 380 soon made use of conventional offshore skimmers ineffective, so responders began looking at ways to effectively recover the tar mats and patties before they could impact the barrier island beaches of Texas during the busy spring break season. Since commercial shrimping vessels could tow a net and were designed for slow operating speeds, it was decided to try using these vessels to recover the tar mats and patties. By modifying traditional nets and using a spotter aircraft to move the shrimping vessels to the greatest concentration of tar mats and patties, participants made the operation a success.