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Is Washington ready to handle The Big Spill?

A boat with an oil boom tries to contain oil spilled from the explosion and collapse of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
A boat with an oil boom tries to contain oil spilled from the explosion and collapse of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

Some lawmakers in Olympia say “no.” They’re proposing a bill that would make the oil industry pay for a variety of precautions designed to protect Washington’s shorelines from an Exxon Valdez or Deepwater Horizon disaster.

(I wrote about the state of Washington's oil spill prevention and response while the Gulf spill was ongoing last spring ...)

Bainbridge Island Democrat Christine Rolfes is the bill’s main sponsor (Zack Hudgins of Tukwila and 25 other Puget Sound area Dems are co-sponsoring).

Rolfes says upfront that Washington’s oil spill program is already among the best in the country. And, she says, we could deal pretty well with a spill of less than 10,000 gallons that happened during daylight in decent weather. What her bill would do, Rolfes says, is push oil spill response to the next level.

“We need the best available technology here to be able to respond to spills 24/7, regardless of whether there’s fog, regardless of whether it’s a dark and stormy night."

Rolfes says the Big Spill could result in the loss of 165,000 jobs and have $10.8 billion in economic impacts.

She says the recent federal report on the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico last year points to the need for more and better technology to contain spilled oil in Washington.

Some provisions of the bill:

  • Fishermen around Puget Sound would be trained and equipped in advance to use their boats to respond immediately to a spill.
  • Oil spill equipment, such as the lines of floating boom that contain spilled oil, would have to be able to handle currents of at least 4 knots and waves of at least five feet. 
  • Beefed-up system for training and deploying spill response volunteers.
  • More, and more stringent, spill response drills, including at night and in rough weather. 

The bill would put most of the costs for upgrading oil spill response on the shoulders of the oil and shipping industries. There’s no price tag, so far.
Industry representatives are studying the proposal. They’re likely to have more to say when the bill goes to public hearings in the next few weeks.

Liam Moriarty started with KPLU in 1996 as our freelance correspondent in the San Juan Islands. He’s been our full-time Environment Reporter since November, 2006. In between, Liam was News Director at Jefferson Public Radio in Ashland, Oregon for three years and reported for a variety of radio, print and web news sources in the Northwest. He's covered a wide range of environment issues, from timber, salmon and orcas to oil spills, land use and global warming. Liam is an avid sea kayaker, cyclist and martial artist.