The landscape for oil transportation is changing rapidly along our shores and within our communities. Washington State increased from zero shipments of oil in 2011 to 700 million gallons in 2013. Today, we receive approximately 19 unit trains a week, each carrying as much as 3 million gallons of Bakken crude, which is then in turn mostly put into smaller barges and vessels destined for refineries in other locations throughout Washington and California. If the proposed facilities in Grays Harbor and the Columbia River are built, and if refinery expansions happen in the Puget Sound to accommodate rail imports are permitted and fully built over the next few years, the weekly unit train number could jump to 137 or more. Concerned yet?

Will this happen in waters adjacent to your favorite recreation area?

Will this happen in waters adjacent to your favorite recreation area?

Given the complexity of the issue, and how much has been happening lately, we’ve been blogging about it a fair amount in efforts to raise awareness of the impacts to our coastal resources, as well as promoting action towards stronger protections. You can read more here and here.

Marine & Rail Oil Transportation Study Finalized

The Washington State 2014 Supplemental Budget provided one-time funding for Ecology to conduct a Marine and Rail Oil Transportation Study. The objective of the study was to analyze the risks to public health and safety, and the environmental impacts associated with the transportation of oil in Washington State: $300,000 of the state toxics control account—state appropriation was provided solely for the department to conduct a study of oil shipment through the state. The purpose of the study was to assess public health and safety as well as environmental impacts associated with oil transportation. The study must provide data and analysis of statewide risks, gaps, and options for increasing public safety and improving spill prevention and response readiness. Read the full study here.
A few key recommendations that we feel are essential to better protecting our waters from a major oil spill:
  • Ensure permanent funding for assessing oil transportation risks. This would keep agencies informed on the changing energy picture and its potential effect on public health and safety and environment. Additional funding is needed to support the expansion of Vessel Traffic Risk Assessment (VTRA) to Grays Harbor, the Columbia River, the outer coast, changes in Puget Sound, and the development of a Rail Traffic Risk Assessment (RTRA) model to analyze changes to the rail transportation system.
  • Enhance and provide for a continuous supply of oil spill response equipment and local first responder firefighting equipment. Direct Ecology to develop a grant program for firefighting equipment and working with local responders to develop rules for the administration of the program. Provide ongoing funding and staffing to administer the program, maintain existing equipment, and provide periodic training to first responders.
  • Modify statutory authority to extend financial responsibility requirements to rail and mobile facilities and enable Ecology to modify the regulations on financial responsibility requirements. By requiring Certificates of Financial Responsibility, Ecology can ensure that companies transporting oil through the state can pay for cleanup costs and damages from oil spills.
  • The Washington Pilotage Commission should undertake an analysis with the Harbor Safety
    Committees, U.S. Coast Guard, Ecology and the state of Oregon, and consider rule making on expanding requirements for escort tugs and/or other safety measures for tank vessels including articulated tug and barges.
  • Direct Ecology and the fire marshal’s office to analyze the need for hazardous materials response teams. This analysis should consider team composition, equipment and training, locations, funding mechanisms, and statewide coordination. Part of this analysis should include development of a startup and recurring cost estimates for such teams.
Escort Tugs are an important step in the right direction. Currently they are only required within the Puget Sound.

Escort Tugs are an important step in the right direction. Currently they are only required within the Puget Sound.

Will the Washington Legislature move forward with study recommendations that better protect our coast & communities or let the study sit on the shelf and collect dust?

Time will tell…various pieces of legislation are currently under consideration in Olympia. Last week, the House of Representatives passed HB 1449 (supported by the Environmental Priorities Coalition) and the bill now heads over to the Senate where it likely faces an uphill battle. Read More

The Senate recently passed legislation (SB 5057) focused mostly on improving rail safety aspects, but denied the inclusion of stronger protections for marine waters and financial assurance language that would’ve held oil and rail companies accountable. Read More

What can YOU do to help protect our coast & communities?

Whether it’s writing a letter to your Senator asking them to support stronger protections, showing up at a town hall meeting and speaking up, traveling down to Olympia to participate in a constituent meeting with you legislator, or joining Hands Across the Sand on May 16th, we can help you find your voice in calling for action to better protect our quality of life now, and for future generations. Contact WA Policy Manager Gus Gates for any assistance and upcoming volunteer opportunities.