Department of Ecology News Release - March 15, 2010

10-046

Under settlement, Polar Tankers would pay $588,000 assessment for environmental harm caused by 2004 oil spill

OLYMPIA – Polar Tankers Inc., a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips Co., has agreed to pay $588,000 to help compensate the public for environmental harm caused by the October 2004 crude oil spill into Puget Sound’s Dalco Passage near Tacoma.

The payment would come under a proposed settlement agreement or consent decree filed this week in U.S. District Court, Western Washington Division involving Polar Tankers and the United States, state of Washington, Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and Puyallup Tribe of Indians. A consent decree in federal court makes no finding of guilt or innocence.

The U.S. Attorney General’s action was made at the request of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; the Washington state departments of Ecology and Fish & Wildlife; and the Muckleshoot and Puyallup tribal governments.

The coalition of federal, state and tribal governments also filed a related restoration plan and environmental assessment that identifies three potential environmental restoration projects on Vashon and Maury Islands.

The spill caused harm to Puget Sound Chinook salmon and other salmon species, forage fish, shellfish and their habitats, as well as other bird and wildlife species.

The federal and state agencies and tribal governments seek public comment on the proposed $588,000 consent decree and the recommended restoration plan and environmental assessment through April 22, 2010. Information, including the full text of the consent decree and the restoration plan are available at: http://www.darrp.noaa.gov/about/index.html .

Send comments to:

NOAA
Attention: Jason Lehto (jason.a.lehto@noaa.gov)
7600 Sand Point Way N.E.
Seattle, Wash. 98115 (206) 526-6665

The 2004 incident involved the company’s oil tanker Polar Texas, which spilled between 1,000 and 7,200 gallons of crude oil during evening hours. The spill went unreported to state and federal authorities. Oil from the tanker spread out on the water throughout the night.

Patches of oily sheen reached as far south as the Tacoma Narrows and as far north as Eagle Harbor. The sheen touched 15 miles of shore along Colvos Passage, the Narrows and Quartermaster Harbor. Six miles of beach on southern Vashon and Maury islands required cleanup to remove the oil.

“The settlement agreement and the restoration projects being proposed are the final chapter for this tragic spill that damaged Puget Sound and had so many economic, environmental, cultural and emotional ramifications,” said Ecology Spills Program Manager Dale Jensen.

“This is another example of how we are continually working to restore habitat impacted by spills. The settlement funds recovered in this case will be used to benefit habitat that was damaged through exposure to oil.” said David Kennedy, acting assistant administrator for NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

In October 2006 ConocoPhillips paid Ecology a $540,000 fine for the spill – the largest penalty the department ever issued for an oil spill from a vessel to Washington marine waters. Preventing oil spills to state waters, especially Puget Sound is among Ecology’s highest priorities.

The cleanup exceeded $2.2 million in costs, paid from a federal oil-spill contingency fund. Ecology and other state agencies spent $483,000, which was reimbursed by the federal fund. The U.S. Department of Justice recovered all cleanup costs from Polar Tankers.

Since the 2004 incident, Jensen said that Polar Tankers has “vastly improved” its operations. He noted in July 2009, that Ecology gave Polar Tankers the department’s Exceptional Compliance Program Award for achieving excellence in marine safety and environmental stewardship.

Key features of the three proposed environmental restoration projects outlined in the consent decree and the restoration plan and environmental assessment include:

The proposed projects would be undertaken under a partnership agreement with King County.

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Media Contacts:
Curt Hart, Ecology media relations, 360-407-6990; cell, 360-480-7908, curt.hart@ecy.wa.gov

Vicki Loe, NOAA media relations, 206- 526-6464, vicki.loe@noaa.gov

Douglas Zimmer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service media relations, 360-753-4370; cell, 360 951 4302, douglas_zimmer@fws.gov

For more information: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/spills/spills.html