The Department of Ecology’s Spill Prevention, Preparedness, and Response (Spills) Program represents Washington State in the Oil Spill Task Force. The mission of the Spills Program is to protect, preserve, and restore Washington’s environment. We focus on preventing oil spills to Washington’s waters and land, and planning for and delivering a rapid, aggressive, and well-coordinated response to oil and hazardous substance spills wherever they occur.
Spill prevention, Preparedness, and Response Program
Vessels, pipelines, and rail transport more than 20 billion gallons of oil through Washington State by each year. Washington is home to ports that handle significant international and domestic shipping trade and Washington is a major oil refining state.The Spills Program takes pride in adapting to shifting economic trends, legislative direction, and public demands. We engage in legislative work to adapt and maintain our regulatory framework that guides our spill prevention, preparedness, and response standards and requirements.
The Spills Program works directly with the oil and maritime industries, tribes, the public, and non-profit groups to prevent oil spills from vessels, railroads, pipelines, and oil handling facilities. We believe the best solutions for oil spill prevention require a collective effort with our regulated community. Our focus is on human procedural and organizational factors and we work to identify the best available technologies and practices needed to prevent oil spills.
Our prevention inspectors evaluate spill prevention plans, oil transfer operations, and oil-handler training programs. We inspect vessels, facilities, and oil transfer operations. The Spills Program investigates spill incidents and supports enforcement actions, if needed. We participate in the Pacific Oil Spill Prevention Education Team (POSPET) and provide educational materials to members of the regulated community. We offer voluntary certification programs for tank ships, tank barges, and articulated tug barges through the Voluntary Best Achievable Protection/Exceptional Compliance program. Our regulatory work includes providing technical outreach, design standards, and rules for oil storage, transfer, and containment facilities.
We make recommendations for cost-effective spill prevention measures while protecting public health and safety, the state’s economy, and the environment by evaluating when and how oil moves through the state and the associated risks. Our annual vessel entry counts and oil spill risk assessments help prepare and plan for response to oil-related incidents that could impact major waterways. Risk assessments in Grays Harbor, the Columbia River, the Salish Sea, and for marine and rail oil transportation are a few examples of this important work.
Washington has an effective regulatory program that requires oil handlers to be prepared to respond if they have an oil spill. We require oil-handling facilities, pipelines, railroads, and vessels to have oil spill contingency plans. Plans include access to approved primary response contractors, wildlife response service providers, and spilled management teams. We require contingency plan holders to practice their plans with oil spill drills.
We actively participate in regional and local planning efforts with the input of regulated industry, federal agencies, tribal, state, and local governments, non-profit, and citizens at a number of levels. With these partners, we help develop the Northwest Area Contingency Plan, sector and inland area plans, and geographic response plans. We manage the registration system for volunteers and Vessels of Opportunity in Washington State. Industry, response contractors, and grant recipients are encouraged to track equipment location and availability through the Worldwide Response Resource List. We inspect equipment owned by regulated industry and maintenance programs to ensure industry response equipment is in a state of readiness.
The Spills Program looks toward the future of oil spill technology and strives for best achievable protection for spill response. We review research and development of oil spill response technologies, training procedures, and operational methods. We cultivate a lessons learned culture internally and with our response partners, and develop and test response tools.
The Spills Program is committed to rapid, aggressive, and well-coordinated responses. We receive more than 4,000 spill reports each year. We respond 24 hours a day, seven days a week to incidents involving oil and hazardous materials that may harm Washington’s environment, public health, safety, and economy. Ecology is designated as the State-On-Scene Coordinator for oil spills that get into Washington’s water. We strive to minimize spill impacts and provide timely information about current incidents. We provide information through incident pages on many of our coordinated response efforts for active and past oil spills, toxic and hazardous materials incidents, and related cleanup efforts.
We also work to restore publicly owned resources injured as a result of spills. Anyone responsible for spilling oil into state waters is liable for damages resulting from injuries to publicly owned natural, cultural and historic, and economic resources. We have a Resource Damage Assessment Committee that meets to determine damages from spills. Money collected from damage assessments is deposited into the Coastal Protection Fund, which is used to pay for restoration projects. Funds may also be allocated for research and development in the causes, effects, and removal of pollution caused by the discharge of oil. Equipment grants administered by the Spills Program help local communities pay for response equipment and training to respond to spills of oil or other hazardous materials, as well as fires.