Oil Spill Response Reaches New Level

By Christopher Dunagan
Monday, April 14, 2008


Worries about a disastrous oil spill along Washington’s outer coast have been eased somewhat, thanks to two vessels that will be stationed in Neah Bay.

On Monday, Crowley Maritime Corporation extended its contract to protect the coastline with a heavy, oceangoing tugboat scheduled for a yearlong deployment beginning July 1. In years past, state funding covered the tug only during winter months.

In another development, a 73-foot oil skimmer has been moved to Neah Bay to serve as a first-response vessel if a spill were to occur in the northwest corner of the state.

The two vessels are unrelated in purpose and funding, but together they provide a major advancement in protection, said Fred Felleman, a longtime advocate for increased spill-response capabilities in the Neah Bay area.

Neah Bay is considered the only safe port between Grays Harbor and Port Angeles. Oil-spill experts have long been concerned about the lack of emergency response equipment along a pristine coastline as well the treacherous entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

“Plugging the gap is what we’re talking about,” said Felleman, Northwest consultant for Friends of the Earth. “Neah Bay is the strategic port between these locations. This is the culmination of many years of work by many different people.”

The equipment will help protect beaches in Olympic National Park, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, three national wildlife refuges and various tribal lands.

The Legislature this year provided $3.65 million for the emergency response tug. Crowley agreed to extend its $8,500-a-day contract, leaving money for other contingencies.

“Every year, thousands of vessels carrying billions of gallons of oil make transits through the Strait of Juan de Fuca,” said Gov. Chris Gregoire in announcing the contract extension. “If we had a major oil spill in the strait, the costs to our environment, our economy and our quality of life could be astronomical.

“We must do all we can to protect our pristine shorelines,” she continued. “Keeping a response tug at Neah Bay year-round helps fulfill that mission.”

Long-term funding is still in doubt, although U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell has proposed federal legislation to set up permanent funding, including contributions from the shipping industry.

Nearly 9,000 oil tanker and cargo ships pass through the strait each year, according to the Washington Department of Ecology. Cargo ships can carry 2 million gallons of fuel oil and tankers up to 36 million gallons of crude and other petroleum products.

Last week, the skimmer Arctic Tern moved into Neah Bay, where it will be available to contain and scoop up oil if something goes awry.

The skimmer is required under state rules adopted in 2006 to ensure adequate response to all areas of the state. The need to fill the gap between Grays Harbor and Port Angeles was well understood by the shipping industry, state regulators and environmentalists, said Richard Wright of Marine Spill Response Corporation, the region’s primary spill-response contractor.

“We took every piece of equipment that MSRC owns and calculated what it would take to get them all to 28 different points and how that would match up to time frames in the regulations,” Wright said.

The new station in Neah Bay was one result, he said.

The company will rotate captains licensed for 100-ton vessels in and out of the new station, while two trained members of the Makah Tribe serve as crew. Tribal members may eventually reach proficiency to become captain.

Issues still to be resolved at Neah Bay are a barge to offload oil from the skimmer and whether an existing oil-containment boom is adequate for heavy ocean waves.

Chad Bowechop of the Makah Tribe said he looks forward to working through those issues with MSRC. He said he’s also encouraged by recent discussions about including Makah fishermen in first-response training.

“The lesson we learned from the Exxon Valdez is if there is a commercial fishing fleet in the area, you should do everything you can to train and equip them,” he said.

For a discussion about water-related issues, check out the blog Watching Our Water Ways at kitsapsun.com.

© 2007 Kitsap Sun

~ by fredfelleman on April 15, 2008.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: