Puget Sound Energy to Pay for 2006 Fuel Spill

The Washington Department of Ecology levied a $366,000 fine against Puget Sound Energy (PSE) after an estimated 18,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled at a company backup electrical generating station near the Crystal Mountain ski area in Pierce County on Nov. 3, 2006.

The spill happened in mountainous terrain with rocky soil at the same time as record-setting rainfall and flooding. The geography and weather forced the spilled fuel down into the rocks further and faster than normal. Red-dyed diesel fuel entered nearby Silver Creek and adjacent wetlands that were below the generating station.

The creek is an important salmon-bearing stream – and a tributary of the White River that flows into Puget Sound. The spill happened in an area of cultural significance to the Muckleshoot Tribe.

"PSE took quick responsibility for the situation and did a commendable job responding to the spill and cleaning it up," said Spills Program Manager Dale Jensen. "However, Ecology's highest priority is preventing spills from occurring. The diesel fuel entered a tributary stream that eventually flows into to Puget Sound, adding to the toxic load of this already threatened estuary system."

Jensen noted that PSE spent more than $16 million in response and cleanup costs, reimbursed Ecology $90,000 for its response costs, and cooperated fully during the joint Ecology-U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigation of the incident.

 "PSE regrets that the spill occurred. Our employees and contractors accomplished a quick comprehensive response despite being faced with some of the most severe weather conditions our state has experienced in more than 100 years. PSE reached out to work collaboratively with Ecology, the EPA, the U.S. Forest Service, state Department of Health, and the Tacoma Pierce County Heath Department," said Steve Secrist, director of Environmental Policy for PSE.

"PSE accepts full responsibility and will continue to work with Ecology and others to make sure we do everything we can to protect the environment. We have implemented extensive remediation, revegetation, and protective measures at Crystal Mountain that significantly reduce the likelihood that a similar spill will occur and ensure that backup protections are in place for such an unlikely event," Secrist said.

Ecology and EPA concluded that the spill occurred after an electrical switch burned out and became stuck in the "on" position, pumping diesel fuel to a small tank that feeds the generator engine.

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