Environmental Law
12:44 pm
Mon January 30, 2012

Tougher rules for oil spill prevention - hearings underway

Washington State already has some of the highest oil spill readiness standards in the country – if not in the world.

An update to those regulations is raising that bar even higher.

The tightening is in response to the catastrophic BP oil spill nearly two years ago in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The new law places new requirements on oil companies operating in Puget Sound or on the Columbia River.

“From a small oil spill, to even a worst case scenario oil spill that may involve millions of gallons of fuel,” Department of Ecology spokesman, Curt Hart, says companies with large ships will have to invest in response equipment and training for personnel, to make them ready round the clock, in case of an accident or disaster.

“For example, the state law that’s in place is now requiring companies to have the capability of doing continuous on-water cleanup if they have a spill. And that means throughout the night and even during inclement weather – like fog, rain and wind conditions,” Hart says.

Washington has a lot of that kind of weather,  much more than in the Gulf of Mexico.

Along with the BP oil catastrophe, Hart says part of what has inspired the tougher regulations is the geography of Puget Sound, with its narrow passages and sensitive ecosystems close to busy shipping lanes.

“Unlike the Gulf Spill, where the shoreline impacts didn’t occur for almost a week," Hart says, " if we had a major oil spill here in Washington, we would see shoreline impacts in a matter of hours and maybe even minutes. And that’s why it’s so critical to have the technology and the capability to remove oil on water.” 

An advisory committee has just kicked off a 9-month process, at the end of which the new rules will be finalized, with more specifics on what’s required of all the companies affected.

One question that remains unclear is what it will ultimately cost them. From the smallest commercial ferries to huge tankers and barges, anything that carries bulk oil or passengers will be affected.

People can file comments on the new rules till the end of May.

(Every month between now and then, an advisory board meeting takes place in Lacey. Click here for more information on that.)