Oil spill bill: ‘Be prepared for catastrophic event’

Joel Connelly – PI.com

Spurred by the report of a national commission on the BP Gulf oil spill, two Washington lawmakers would require oil companies to stockpile spill cleanup equipment ready to operate in the waves and strong currents of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

“We currently have pretty good response capability up to a middle level spill: At the bigger level we are not well prepared. I don’t want us to be as unprepared as they (BP) were,” said Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge.

Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, added: “Even if we are happy with the safety record, we need to be prepared for a catastrophic event.”

Oil drilling platforms are not found in Puget Sound. But 4,000 tankers ply Washington waters each year, delivering 15 billion gallons of oil.

Tug-escorted tankers traverse the Strait of Juan de Fuca, pass Whidbey Island, and move through the San Juan Islands to reach refineries at Cherry Point near Ferndale, and at Anacortes. The San Juans were listed in Sunday’s New York Times as one of 41 top places in the world to visit in the coming year.

Under legislation being introduced by Rolfes and Hudgins, oil companies that operate in Washington’s inland and coastal waters would get expanded responsibilities for spill response. The bill will cover several areas:


  • Oil companies operating in the state would be required to have prompt access to state-of-the-art equipment that can quickly and aggressively respond to potential oil spills.
  • Oil companies would be directed to stockpile spill cleanup equipment able to operate around the clock in Washington’s inland waters, including having ability to handle spills at night or in heavy fog.
  • The Department of Ecology would be required to conduct large-scale in-water drills to test preparedness.
  • The oil industry would be required to train and prepare local fishermen to help respond to oil spills, before an emergency arises in which they would be needed. Oil companies would be required to establish liaison with local emergency management centers before any spill.

    In its report, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill found that the Gulf spill did not stem from exceptional circumstances, but “. . . rather, the root causes are systematic, and absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur.”Unlike the vast Gulf of Mexico, Puget Sound is a confined body of water. A spill in Washington’s inland waters would not disperse into open ocean waters. The state Department of Ecology has estimated that a major spill could cost as much as $10 billion in economic losses.

    “This is about protecting our state’s economic interests: We need a healthy Puget Sound for economic success, tourism and recreation – In many ways, it defines our way of life here,” said Rolfes.

    “What this bill does is requires the best available technology, the capacity to work in thick fogs and high waves and thick fogs and bad weather — exactly the conditions in which we are most likely to have an incident.”

    Hudgins cited a finding of the commission, that the BP cleanup effort was slow to mobilize Gulf fishermen “until oil was all over the place.”

  • ~ by fredfelleman on January 12, 2011.

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