Opinion

More protection from oil spills | Editorial

The entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca is the gateway to the Salish Sea and all of the ecological wonders therein. It’s also the marine highway for tankers going to and from five oil refineries that have a capacity of 618,000 gallons of crude oil per day. Those refineries — Tesoro and Shell in Anacortes, BP at Cherry Point, ConocoPhillips in Ferndale, and U.S. Oil and Refining in Tacoma — receive tanker loads of Alaskan oil hundreds of times every year.

Tesoro is one of the 60 largest oil refineries in the world. The ports in Seattle and Tacoma form the second-largest harbor in the country for container traffic, according to the Legislature.

“More than 4,000 vessel transports and 15 billion gallons of oil regularly travel to and from ports of call in the Northwest Straits and Puget Sound each year,” according to People for Puget Sound.

We need only look to Alaska and Texas to understand what a major oil spill would mean to the Salish Sea and all that it sustains. A state Department of Ecology study in 2004 determined a major oil spill would cost 165,000 jobs and $10.8 billion in economic impacts and could eliminate our resident orca populations.

The state Legislature has approved a law to bolster our ability to prevent spills and respond if they occur.

House Bill 1186 was sponsored by Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, and Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila. The Senate version was sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Islands.

Under the new law, tankers are required to have an oil spill contingency plan on file with the state Department of Ecology. The contingency plan must meet standards identified by the department and provide for the containment and cleanup of oil spilled into the waters of the state.

The owner or operator of a tanker that spills in Washington waters or fails to satisfy the contingency planning requirements will face stiff financial penalties. The state is required to be notified of vessel emergencies resulting in the discharge of oil or the threat of oil discharge. Penalties are increased for vessels that discharge 1,000 or more gallons of oil.

The Department of Ecology will establish a volunteer coordination system to be used as part of an oil spill response. Spill-response equipment will be stockpiled to ensure equipment is on hand to respond in challenging environments, such as fog, fast currents and rough seas. Commercial fishermen will be trained and equipped for oil spill response to increase the region’s response capacities.

In 2009, state legislation was approved that requires cargo carriers, oil carriers and large cruise-ship companies to form a cooperative to contract for standby response tug service at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Once again, it’s only fair that those who use the Salish Sea help protect it.

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