Oil Spill Risk Management: Strategies for the future

Intro by Miles (Chip) Boothe

Over 600 vessels have been escorted by the Neah Bay tug since it first started operating in 1999; 6 involved throwing lines to a vessel in distress.  This afternoon the legislature is looking at a new measure to fund the tug permanently (beyond the 1 year that Governor Gregoire recently promised) and transfer the burden of cost to the maritime shipping industry.

See Fred Felleman’s guest column in the Seattle Pi (Feb 4, 2009) [~40% of tankers calling on WA are single-hulled; WA has 5 refiners that process 9 billion gallons crude/yr;

Dan Doty: Slick Fixes for the Salish Sea – Restoring Natural Resources after Oil Spills

Prevention is important, but what happens if a spill occurs?  Three types of responses:

  • Restoration is handled by Natural Resouce Damage Assessment (NRDA; guided by State and Federal law).
  • Oil spill response (incident command system)
  • investigations

Most spills are small.  NRDA is WA compensation schedule ($1-100/Gal damages go into a fund that is used for restoration)

Bigger spills involve planning and preparation:

  • NRDA guidance and team organization, early assessment plans (EDCPs), training, science, monitoring
  • Initial chaos, logistical issues, though there is a pre-organized oil spill response system
  • Recommendations for conducting cooperative natural resource damage assessment (April 07 West Coast Joint Assessment Team)
  • Collection of data through ephemeral data collection plans and sampling “go kits” and caches (e.g. with Makah Tribe, Navy)
  • Key issue is staffing, training, drilling: field crews need Hazwoper Training, scientifically and legally defensible (chain of custody) data must be collected through specialized resource teams.  We’re incorporating a worst case drill into training of NRDA team.
  • One of the first tasks is to identify key resources at risk, focus injury assessments on highest priorities, look for baseline data to assess impacts.  So, baseline data is being collected and maintained (e.g. at Padilla Bay GIS).
  • Oil spills have sub-lethal and long-term effects on aquatic ecosystems (e.g. PAHs affect herring eggs)

Restoration is the goal of this whole process.  We need to invest in preparation to do a good job when a spill happens.

Evaluating Capacity to Respond to Large-scale Oil Spills in Puget Sound and the Georgia Basin, Jacqui Brown-Miller

Later this week the Washington Oil Spill Advisory Council will publish “Assessment of capacity in WA State to respond to large-scale marine oil spills.”  This is a synopsis of the assessment of what to do in the first 48 hours after a ~50k barrel spill.  The results of the study will likely guide upcoming policy revisions.

Response modes:

  1. recover oil with skimmers
  2. sensitive shoreline protection with booms
  3. in-situ burning and chemical dispersent
  4. shoreline clean-up in urgent phase (to keep that oil from moving further)
  5. wildlife response (usually doesn’t start until after 48 hours)


  • WA state has existing resources to recover only 9500-19500 barrels of a 50k barrel instantaneous release.
  • Numeric estimations accounted for senarios with various spill behavior, response tactics, swath width, recovery system efficiency and storage capacity.
  • Response capacity is highest near equipment caches; Port Angeles is highest; lowest are on outer coast.
  • It looks like ~32k feet of boom is stored in Mackaye Bay (or somewhere near Lopez Island)
  • 1400-1800 barrels may be dispersed; ~4k could be burned; we have optimistically 684 response personel; manual removal off beach would require 100s to 1000s of workers; mechanical removal should have an advance policy about when/where such “scraping off” could occur
  • Working on a hazing plan to keep marine mammals away.
  • Wave and wind limitations mean that mechanical recovery would be unimpaired 94% of the time in inland waters, but only ~25% of the time on outer coast.
  • Main uncertainties: availabililty of people and equipment (day of week, can multiple gear be deployed simultaneously?)
  • We need more on-water storage devices and earth-moving equipment and cleanup equipment (e.g. super-sacks).

Looking to the Future – Training, Drills, and Exercises, David Sawicki

Dept of Ecology has a  Spill Drill checklist that is aligned with the Northwest Area Contingency Plan and designed to test the functionality of the Incident Command System.  Federally, there is National Preparedness for Response Plan document.

The present state: Incident Command System is probably best in the world

Future state: Increased focus on field activities (not incident command post where we are excellent)

  • shoreline cleanup
  • wildlife rescue/rehabilitation
  • dispersant approval / application process
  • volunteer management
  • staging area management
  • decontamination

We need to do this through workshops and coordinated training (leveraging proximal refineries and response organizations).  We need to move past repetitive checklist 3-year cycle approach.   “Many of us are ready for graduate school.”  We also need to develop more realistic goals (only a mag 9 earthquake would cause some of the scenarios we train for…)

Panel discussion

Kathy Fletcher: Prevention is the most important thing we can do.  Right now we have a 5cent/barrel tax that funds our prevention and response activities, but the revenue is unpredictable because if oil is shipped out of WA the tax is refunded.  The Oil Spill Advisory Council needs to advise the legislature on ways to stabilize the revenue (though the Governor has suggested abolishing the Council itself).   This March 24th will mark the 20th anniversary of the Exxon spill where lack of vigilance was the main reason the damage was so grave.

Richard Wright: Runs largest private, non-profit Marine Spill Response Company (4M barrel clean-up capacity, nationally??).  WA State is very well prepared and we have an MOA with Burrard, a Canadian counterpart.  A single phone call will access their full resources.

Linda Pilkey-Jarvis: possible big spills are from 10k barrels to ~3M barrels.  We have gained rules in latest regulatory framework that make review of plans optimal, e.g. standards for skimmer efficiency equipment.  We’ve pushed equipment caches to outer coast areas and San Juan Islands.  Some companies are close to compliance, but many have a ways to go as we begin this 3 year process.  Before plans are approved, we go into field to verify procedures and resources.

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