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Spill Cleanup
Skagit Valley Herald

Oil spill workshop gets live example of response process

An oil spill Saturday morning at the Shell Puget Sound Refinery in Anacortes happened at an opportune time for participants in an oil spill response workshop.

While representatives from federal, state and local response agencies were teaching the day’s students about oil spills and responses, several of them answered phone calls about the active spill.

An oil sheen was also reported west of the refinery and the U.S. Coast Guard Puget Sound Sector was working to protect shoreline between the refinery and Shannon Point, Coast Guard Capt. Joe Raymond said.

Shell communications manager Jeff Gabert said Saturday afternoon that 6,300 gallons of Alaska North Slope crude spilled around 8 a.m. during a hose failure. He said the spill was contained on-site and cleanup activities were underway.

“We never want (spills) to happen, so we take them very seriously when they do,” he said.

Workshop speakers used the day’s real incident as an example of the state’s response process for the group of about 50 people who came to the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve to learn about oil spills.

They said the interagency response process is effective, and referred to the La Conner Shelter Bay Marina fire in which six boats sank in February as another example of successfully containing spilled fuel.

“We’ve got a very well-run system,” said Mark Watkinson, Skagit County Department of Emergency Management director. “Especially the local refineries are very good partners. Any time there’s a spill, we get a notification.”

Skagit County does not own a large cache of oil spill response equipment or have the money to buy it, Watkinson said. It relies on Ecology, the Coast Guard and the spiller to respond.

The county acts as a liaison and provides local knowledge to help speed up the process and minimize damage.

During the workshop, Tesoro March Point refinery environmental engineer Neil Norcross introduced a scenario of a much larger spill: 60,000 gallons dumped from a vessel at the refineries dock less than a mile offshore.

And the process that happens afterward: Immediately following the rupture of a crude line while a ship is offloading, a pressure alarm alerts refinery operators and an automated system calls for outside assistance from the county, state, Coast Guard and diving contractors. Then 9-1-1 is called.

The Coast Guard’s projected wind and tide movement shows the spill clustered along the shoreline southeast of the spill within 72 hours. Luckily, in this instance, booms were in place before the oil spilled, he said about the scenario.

Washington is the only state that requires booms to be in place during boat-and-refinery oil exchanges, state Department of Ecology spokesman Dave Byers said. Each refinery and oil cargo ship are also required to have an oil response contingency plan, which they practice three times a year — once in a tabletop exercise and twice in action.

Byers called it the “most aggressive drill program anywhere in the nation.”

It’s not only ships delivering oil that are of concern, however. Other commercial cargo vessels carry as much as 3 million gallons of fuel just to make it across the ocean, Byers said. And concern over oil-by-rail is growing rapidly as well.

“We have been planning for decades for spills in marine waters,” Ecology oil spill preparedness manager Linda Pilkey-Jarvis said.

Now the agency is looking inland to develop strategies for fast-moving rivers and streams.

“There is more of the state that doesn’t have these plans than has them,” Pilkey-Jarvis said, looking at a state map depicting specific geographic response plans with blocks of color.

The plans are clustered along the coastline and the Columbia and Spokane rivers — leaving most of the map blank.

Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublish ing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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