Navigation Issues

Navigation Issues for Buzzards Bay

Related Pages:    Mass Oil Spill Act  |   Oil Spill Commission  |


After the April 2003 No. 6 oil spill by the Bouchard No. 120 tank barge, the navigational rules and pilotage requirements for Buzzards Bay come under increased scrutiny. Oil tanker and tank barge safety in Buzzards Bay has long been a concern for the Buzzards Bay NEP. In our 1991 Management Plan for Buzzards Bay, the Preventing Oil Pollution Action Plan identified improved navigation and pilotage requirements as an important need to protect Buzzards Bay from future oil spills (note the two recommendations in the right panel). In our 1999 Review of the implementation of the Buzzards Bay Management Plan, we concluded that many of the Preventing Oil Pollution Action Plan recommendations were met, including increased state pilotage requirements, and oil spills seemed less frequent. In 1999 we wrote:

“With regards to reducing risks of spills, in the early 1990s, the Buzzards Bay Coalition aggressively lobbied for and was successful in initiating new pilotage legislation by Massachusetts, and also encouraged policy changes by the USCG. The Coalition also fought to keep a key navigation beacon in place in Buzzards Bay that was initially proposed for elimination by the Coast Guard. These changes now ensure qualified pilotage and safer transit through the Cape Cod Canal and Buzzards Bay. In 1997, MCZM is promoting new state legislation more carefully regulating barge transport in Massachusetts’ coastal waters, and this legislation is pending.

In 2002, around 2.0 billion gallons of petroleum products were shipped through the Cape Cod Canal (according to the US Army Corps which operates the canal). Of this total, 81% of the vessels trips with petroleum product were transported in single hulled vessels.Buoy near the entrance of Buzzards Bay where the accident occurred. Buoy (ISO G1) near the entrance of Buzzards Bay (south of Gooseberry Point) where the accident occurred. The tank barge likely traveled a couple hundred feet left of this buoy, instead of passing to the right (see the B120 accident summary page). ISO stands for isophase (the light blinks an equal length of time on and off). Photo Credit: Dr. Joe Costa.

Two 1992 CCMP recommendations

“The Buzzards Bay Coalition will continue to work with state legislators to refile a bill in December 1991 that addresses oil spill prevention including: pilot accountability language, better pilot testing and training including recertification on a regular basis, and pilotage requirements in the upper portions of Buzzards Bay and the Cape Cod Canal. An early version of the bill was filed in December 1990 but was not voted upon.”

“The Coast Guard should install a more effective navigational system at the western entrance of the Cape Cod Canal.”

It is difficult to determine the effectiveness of the pilotage and navigation changes. Clearly Buzzards Bay has not had the large spills that seemed to have occurred more frequently in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Improved municipal training will also be difficult to judge in the absence of a large spill but with regards to smaller spills, Buzzards Bay municipalities have already put the BBP funded equipment and their new training to work.”

Massachusetts 2004 Oil Spill Act Legislation

In the context of these past actions and federal legal decisions and navigation regulations, and based on the recommendations of the Buzzards Bay Oil Spill Commission, both the Governor of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Legislature developed new legislation that would raise fines for oil spills, implemented new safety standards, changes navigational rules including pilotage requirements for Buzzards Bay, and imposed a two cent per barrel fee to establish a $10 million dollar fund for state and local oil spill response and training. On August 3, 2004 Governor Romney signed the landmark legislation, and on August 4, the legislation was enacted into law. The fee established by the legislation was imposed on deliveries of oil to Massachusetts and would end when the oil spill account reaches $10 million dollars, which will probably take 5 to 7 years.

In the week before the passage of the legislation, the Legislature added an emergency preamble to the bill, which made it immediately effective, as opposed to allowing for a typical 90-day delay before enactment. This caused some confusion among the affected industries about what documentation is needed for the new financial assurance requirements, and other provisions. To clarify the impacts of the law, DEP published in the fall of 2004 interim guidance on the new oil spill legislation. DEP subsequently published the final regulations, which were promulgated on March 25, 2005, and can be downloaded at its
314 CMR 19.00 Regulations: Oil Spill Prevention And Response web page.


More information about the Massachusetts Oil Spill Act and the ongoing legal battles can be found on our Massachusetts Oil Spill Act page.

Coast Guard Navigation Regulations and Proposed Rule Changes

The US Coast Guard already has the authority to implement many of the provisions of the Massachusetts Oil Spill Act into their coastal navigation regulations, but have not done so. In October 2004, the US Coast Guard proposed new required shipping lanes in Buzzards Bay for hazardous cargo (one of the recommendations of the Oil Spill Commission and in the Massachusetts Oil Spill Act). The regulations are posted in the October 2004 Federal Register (pdf file posting). The announcement included dates and locations of public hearings. Comments submitted in response to the announcement were posted at this USCG public docket.

These regulations were not finalized, and instead the Coast Guard issued further revised regulations in 2006 (read the March 29, 2006 Federal Register). These further revised regulations attempted to better address the state’s need for tug escorts in Buzzards Bay. These new regulations too have not been finalized.


US Army Corps of Engineers Cape Cod Canal website

Buzzards Bay NEP’s Nautical Chart Page