Representatives from Washington Department of Ecology and the oil tank vessel industry met in Seattle on July 29 to award Polar Tankers with Ecology’s Exceptional Compliance Program (ECOPRO) Award. The award was given to the subsidiary of ConocoPhillips Co. for achieving excellence in marine safety and environmental stewardship.
Polar Tankers operates U.S.-flagged crude oil tankers on the West Coast including Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, Hawaii and Canada. Its five modern, Endeavour Class tankers are specifically designed to carry crude oil in an environmentally safe manner. The double-hulled vessels feature 10 feet of space between the inner and outer hulls, two independent engine rooms, redundant propulsion and twin steering systems, a bow thruster and state-of-the-art navigation systems.
“The mariners and employees of Polar Tankers are proud to achieve this important milestone with the state of Washington,” said Polar’s Capt. George P. McShea Jr., who accepted the award. “We understand our responsibility to the stakeholders of Washington. Achieving ECOPRO status is further demonstration of our commitment to those stakeholders, protecting the local marine environment, and meeting the highest standards of maritime safety.”
Ecology manages a unique non-regulatory environmental protection program for tank vessels called the Voluntary Best Achievable Protection (VBAP) and Exceptional Compliance Program. Tank vessel operators are encouraged to participate in Washington’s VBAP or ECOPRO program to protect Washington’s irreplaceable natural resources from the damage caused by an oil spill.
“We are proud to support this program and we encourage industry to seek the highest standards of safety and environmental compliance,” said Ecology Spills Program Manager Dale Jensen. “Although our ECOPRO standards are higher than those required by state and federal law, they are ultimately achievable and our environment is worth the effort.”
The program is designed to protect Washington waters and reward companies that voluntarily operate their tank vessels under these higher standards. Jensen said companies like Polar that are participating in this non-regulatory program deserve and should receive public recognition for their commitment to environmental and safety excellence in their vessels’ operations.
The VBAP and ECOPRO standards are designed to fill important safety gaps which Washington has identified as critical for state waters. Human error and management issues are often the root causes for oil spills. Utilizing safety management systems which exceed the regulatory minimums improves the safety of Washington waters.
The standards were developed jointly with industry representatives to provide standards higher than those required by law but attainable by today’s proactive marine transportation companies. They are designed to significantly reduce the probability of an oil spill in Washington waters by identifying areas where companies can improve their environmental safety beyond existing regulatory requirements.
Many of the ECOPRO standards exceed Voluntary Best Achievable Protection standards, further increasing the level of marine safety on board tank vessels.
Polar and other companies that apply for the VBAP and ECOPRO certification are required to submit plans to Ecology for approval. Their plans are valid for three years. Ecology inspectors conduct ship audits to make sure the management system is being implemented and continues to meet or exceed state VBAP or ECOPRO standards.
The state’s voluntary program for the safe and pollution-free operation of tank vessels promotes VBAP and ECOPRO standards since they represent many of the best practices found on tank vessels throughout the world.