Environmental Protection

Washington OKs Spill Contingency Plans for 13 Oil Operators

The Washington Department of Ecology recently approved 13 oil spill readiness plans for refining, oil handling and vessel shipping companies operating in western Washington. All but one is located in Puget Sound.

"Puget Sound already faces a myriad of challenges but a large oil spill would immediately devastate our environment, economy and cultural resources," said Puget Sound Partnership (Partnership) Executive Director David Dicks. "Oil spill contingency plans help ensure the companies handling and transporting billions of gallons of oil in and out of the Sound are prepared to quickly and aggressively respond to any spill they might cause."

The Partnership advises Ecology on spill prevention, preparedness and response issues affecting the Sound.

Under state law, all refineries, oil tankers and tank vessels, large cargo and commercial fish-processing vessels, passenger ships, oil storage facilities and oil pipeline companies must have spill contingency plans to operate in Washington.

Dale Jensen, who oversees Ecology's statewide spill preparedness, prevention and response activities, said the approved readiness plans are the first to fully satisfy a new oil spill contingency rule updated in 2006.

"While preventing spills is our top priority, every contingency plan outlines the response actions each company will take to minimize environmental impacts from a spill," Jensen said. "A critical requirement is that all the companies must focus on protecting highly sensitive areas in Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, the outer coast and the Columbia River estuary."

Ecology approved spill contingency plans for:

  • Alaska Tanker Co. – Portland-based oil shipping company operating in Puget Sound and Columbia River.
  • BP Cherry Point Refinery near Ferndale.
  • BP Harbor Island – Seattle fueling terminal.
  • BP Shipping – Houston-based oil shipping company operating in Puget Sound.
  • ConocoPhillips Ferndale refinery.
  • ConocoPhillips Terminals – Houston-based fueling terminals in Renton and Tacoma (both operate under a single contingency plan).
  • Paramount Petroleum Corp. Richmond Beach Asphalt Terminal.
  • Polar Tankers, Inc. – Houston-based oil shipping company operating in Puget Sound and the Columbia River.
  • SeaRiver Maritime, Inc. – Houston-based oil shipping company operating in Puget Sound and the Columbia River.
  • Shell Puget Sound Refining near Anacortes.
  • Tesoro Anacortes refinery near Anacortes.
  • Tesoro Terminals-Port Angeles and Vancouver fueling terminals (both operate under a single contingency plan).
  • Trans Mountain Pipe Line Co. – British Columbia-based pipeline firm transporting crude oil into Washington.
In 2007, Ecology gave conditional approval to all oil-handing and shipping operations required to have spill contingency plans in Washington. In coming months, the department anticipates approving final spill readiness plans for 18 additional regulated facilities, vessel shipping companies and vessel umbrella organizations operating in the state.

Companies must demonstrate they can quickly and effectively respond to oil spills — including potential worst case incidents ranging from 10,000 to 36 million gallons of oil. They need to maintain oil-spill response equipment in at least 45 strategic locations across the state to ensure timely responses to oil spills even in remote locations. If needed, Ecology can call for the equipment to be deployed during a spill.

"Our across-the-board approach sets Washington apart from other states," said Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, Ecology spill preparedness manager. "We are proud the oil industry in our state has met the higher standards for oil spill readiness that our communities demand."

She said the state's rule also requires companies to:

  • Stage different types of response equipment that are effective for protecting different conditions in Washington including fast flowing rivers, shallow waters, estuaries, and stretches of open water including bays, large lakes, and the Pacific Ocean.
  • Ensure plans are constantly being improved by conducting various drills at different times that test diverse parts of each spill contingency plan.
  • Verify location of and adequately maintain all spill response equipment including boats, trucks, oil containment and barrier boom, vacuum devices and skimming vessels.
  • Have sufficient response personnel and support equipment including non-dedicated workboats, shoreline cleanup crews, and aerial surveillance.
  • Be able to effectively respond to oil spills to underground (ground) water sources.
All 13 companies recently met the standard to have sufficient strategies, personnel and mobile equipment in place that can be sent anywhere in the state to rescue 100 oiled birds within 24 hours of a spill.

"Ecology's spill contingency requirements are tough but fair," said David Sawicki, plant protection superintendent for the BP Cherry Point Refinery. In 1994, the refinery was the first operation to have its spill contingency plans approved under Ecology's old contingency rule.

"BP is proud once again to be among the first operations to get state approval for our plan," Sawicki said. "We care strongly about protecting Washington's critical environmental resources. Our goal is to prevent all spills at all our facilities, but if something does happen, we are confident we can quickly and aggressively respond – and keep potential impacts to minimum."

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