Columbia River Spill Comes During Oil Spill Readiness Hearings

Originally published on September 27, 2012 5:17 pm

Just as Washington environmental regulators finish up a series of meetings on oil spill readiness, a half-mile sheen appeared on the Columbia River near Longview. Contractors quickly contained the diesel spill this week. It's one of about 1,800 spills in Oregon and Washington each year.

A leaking fuel tank on a 100-foot fishing vessel poses a much smaller risk than the giant oil tankers that regularly ply Northwest waters. Environmental regulators say a spill larger than the one this week on the Columbia River could run into the billions of dollars in terms of clean-up costs and disrupted commerce.

That was the subject of three public meetings this week. The Washington Department of Ecology's Curt Hart says increasing penalties would make it possible to beef up the response to spills, including more helicopters and airplanes.

"A lot of times when you're looking at a spill on the water, you can't really see it," Hart says. "But if you have aerial assets, you can direct very effectively oil-skimming vessels to get the oil out of the water."

While Hart says major spills have been on the decline, the state still responds on average of more than three minor spills every day.

On the Web:

Wash. Department of Ecology Spill Response program

Oregon DEQ Emergency Response program

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