Washington: We Need More Spill Response Vessels

Thursday, July 28, 2005
Shipping companies and oil-handling facilities should take immediate steps to increase the number of boats available to respond to oil spills in Puget Sound and along Washington's coast, according to Ecology Director Jay Manning.

A newly released study commissioned by the Department of Ecology (Ecology) found that there are not enough vessels available to simultaneously deploy oil booms, transport oil-spill equipment and supplies, and provide other spill-response assistance needed during a major oil spill.

"With as much shipping and tanker traffic as we have in Washington's waters, a significant oil spill is a very real threat, and we have to be able to stage a rapid and aggressive response effort," said Manning.

The study, prepared by Glosten Associates of Seattle, evaluated a hypothetical spill of a half-million gallons of oil in the San Juan Islands and found a shortage of 15 response vessels of various types. Although the study did not examine response-vessel capacity on the Washington coast, Ecology officials say a similar shortage exists there, too.

To help increase the number of boats with trained crews available in the event of an oil spill, the report recommends organizing fishing-vessel operators to help with spill response. Similar arrangements already exist in Alaska and British Columbia.

Manning said the report's findings are timely, since Ecology is revising the spill-response requirements that all ships and oil-handling facilities in Washington must follow. He has directed his staff to require increased vessel-response capacity in the new regulations, which will be formally proposed near the end of the year and take effect by mid-2006, he said.

"There is a clear need to improve response capacity in Washington. I urge the shipping and oil industry to start putting the resources in place now, and not wait for the regulations to take effect next year," Manning said. Ecology plans to convene an advisory group to further evaluate the response-vessel needs and what it would take to launch a program to prepare commercial fishing boats to help with spill response. The information will be used in crafting the new regulatory language.

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