Dept of Ecology Sends Oil Spill Equipment to Gulf – NW oil spill safety net frayed

A fallout of the Gulf fiasco is now that our state is sending both Navy oil skimming vessels, temporarily lowered our oil spill preparedness standards,  and sent essentially our  entire stock of boom and dispersants to the Gulf as well as barges that could be used in the event of a spill here.  This seems like a very bad idea. While personnel can be rapidly deployed, the notion of emptying our supplies and lowering standards is exactly the wrong idea. Accidents and mechanical failure are what this is all about. You have to be prepared for accidents. By emptying our stocks for this futile effort in cleaning up the Gulf, it leaves us more vulnerable to it happening here. We have this beautiful environment here because we didn’t lower our standards or enforcement, we raised them! The Gulf is in this predicament because they have allowed themselves to be controlled by the oil industry and it’s cheerful, “can’t ever happen here” lobbyists and spokespeople, and regulators who lowered the standards!.  We need to not let our guard down. The tragedy in the Gulf is not going to be changed one bit by our sending all our supplies there, but it could be a fiasco for us.

Update – 7 July: It appears that DOE is also considering  sending our rescue tug to the Gulf. I am checking today with DOE on this and other issues.  It appears that neither the Port of Port Townsend, nor county officials were alerted in advance, nor asked if this was a concern to them locally. Discussions appear to be under way with the State, the Feds, our elected federal officials, the Navy, the Tribes and others. There should be clarification on this coming later today, or tomorrow.

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OLYMPIA – Navy Region Northwest will soon send five oil-skimming vessels to help with the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill response in the Gulf of Mexico, pending receipt of Washington Department of Ecology’s (Ecology) official notification on Tuesday, July 6.

Oil-skimming vessels collect oil spilled on water. The Navy earlier sent two of its nine skimmers as well as several smaller work boats from Washington to the Gulf.

Ecology regulates two Navy oil-transfer facilities in Puget Sound. The Navy will keep its two remaining Puget Sound skimmers at their regular stations.

Ecology and the Navy have agreed that the Navy will maintain standing measures, and add interim measures, to help prevent and be sufficiently prepared for any spills that might occur in Washington while the skimmers are helping the Gulf response. These standing or interim measures include:

  • Continuing the requirement for all Navy vessels to be pre-boomed while in port, even if the vessel is not being fueled.
  • Restricting fuel transfers over water to daylight hours – unless there is a documented necessity to support an operational mission. Non-daylight transfers must be approved by a Navy on-scene spill coordinator.
  • Following established Navy directives, orders and other measures that already apply to fuel transfers while in port. These include enhanced staffing levels during all fuel transfers, to include having supervisory personnel on deck and watching from topside to prevent spills. It also means ensuring fueling crews are fully qualified in the Navy’s spill prevention and response procedures.
  • If an oil or hazardous material spill occurs, the Navy must ask the U.S. Coast Guard to activate the services of the Marine Spill Response Corp., National Response Corp. or other private spill-response contractors in Washington to assist with response equipment and personnel. The Coast Guard has confirmed this action will be taken, if requested. Both Ecology and the Coast Guard have agreed to adopt an aggressive, enhanced response posture until the Navy equipment returns from the Gulf.
  • Updating the Navy’s state oil-spill contingency plan that outlines the response actions it will take to minimize environmental impacts from a spill.

“We believe these spill prevention and preparedness measures will help ensure Navy is ready and capable of mounting a rapid, aggressive and well-coordinated response to any spill that might occur while their skimmers are out helping with the Gulf spill response,” said Ecology Spills Program Manager Dale Jensen.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency announced they had lowered federal oil-spill preparedness standards, including cleanup equipment, to get more resources – especially skimming vessels and other skimming systems – to the Gulf.

The new temporary measures require industry and entities like the Navy to maintain enough equipment to respond to a much more modest but more likely spill of 2,100 gallons.

Washington state law, however, requires the oil industry and other entities that transfer large amounts of fuel over state waters, to be able to respond to a worst-case spill scenario. In some instances, that means oil-handling facilities must be prepared to respond to spills involving millions of gallons of oil and other petroleum products.

Jensen said Ecology has received numerous requests by private spill contractors to send equipment to the Gulf. Ecology quickly established a process to track and evaluate each request from the regulated community. The state agency also is tracking what its federal response partners, including the U.S. Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have sent.

Ecology has let experienced response personnel, the state’s entire stock of about 15,000 gallons of chemical dispersants and 1,400 feet of fireproof oil boom, several shallow water barge systems, and more than 50,000 feet of oil containment boom go to the Gulf so far. See how Washington is helping the Gulf spill response.

Jensen said, “We are doing all we can to help our neighbors in the Gulf while preserving a core level of spill response readiness in Washington. It also means, however, that everyone must be extra vigilant about keeping oil out of Washington’s waters. It doesn’t matter if you’re at the helm of an oil tanker or if you’re a weekend boater. We need your help in preventing all oil spills, regardless of size.”

A 2004 draft study commissioned by Ecology estimates that if a major spill were to occur in Washington waters, the state could suffer nearly $11 billion in economic losses, and more than 165,000 jobs across the state would be adversely affected, along with the environmental damage.

On May 10, Ecology and the Marine Spill Response Corp. held unannounced oil-spill response drills in five critical locations in Puget Sound to test the company’s agreement with Global Diving & Salvage Inc. to temporary backfill for more than 25 experienced responders as well equipment MSRC had sent to the Gulf. The call-out test was successful.

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