Department of Ecology News Release - April 29, 2011

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Department of Ecology helps tackle transboundary oil spill issues

OLYMPIA – There are few environmental catastrophes that can blur interstate and international boundaries as quickly as a major oil spill to the marine waters of Washington, Alaska and British Columbia (B.C.).

Regardless of where a large spill originates, the adverse environmental effects on our shorelines, fish and wildlife, and other environmental, economic and cultural resources can spread far and wide.

Wherever oil reaches, the harm will be devastating and similar. Yet the laws and regulations guiding how government agencies and private response entities prepare for and respond to transboundary marine oil spills are far from uniform.

To tackle the transboundary oil spill issue, 90 natural resource trustees and stakeholders who live and work in Washington, British Columbia and Alaska worked with the Pacific States-British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force to document the “who’s who” and “what’s what” when it comes to response planning and readiness for the U.S.-Canadian transboundary oil spill issues.

In Washington, the Department of Ecology (Ecology) helped craft the joint report titled “Review of Planning and Response Capabilities for a Marine Oil Spill on the U.S.-Canadian Transboundary Areas of the Pacific Coast.” The report was just released and copies are available online.

The report examines existing U.S.-Canadian transboundary oil spill response plans and capabilities for the Washington-British Columbia and British Columbia-Alaska border areas.

It makes 111 recommendations to federal, state, provincial, and local government agencies, response organizations, industry, American Indian tribes and Canada First Nations, and U.S. and Canadian coordinating groups. The topics cover response command, planning, operations, logistics, financial issues, and how to ensure that media and the public receive timely information about transboundary spills.

“Oil spills are complex, resource-intensive incidents that are difficult enough to manage just within our state alone,” said Ecology’s David Byers who oversees statewide spill response activities in Washington. “Transboundary oil spills only magnify the challenges.”

Byers, who chaired the transboundary project workgroup, said members included representatives from various government agencies, tribal governments, non-governmental organizations and private industry in Washington, British Columbia and Alaska.

“We worked for nearly three years to identify as many issues and potential solutions as we could,” he said, “It is critical that we have these solutions in place before we have a transboundary spill.”

Ecology estimates a major spill would cost Washington’s economy $10.8 billion and adversely affect 165,000 jobs. A large spill could:

“Many recommendations highlight how critical it is that all these diverse interests are part of the broader U.S. and Canadian federal oil spill planning and preparedness effort,” Byers said. “The catastrophic spill in the Gulf of Mexico happened while we were working on the report. It bolstered why the involvement of all our response partners is essential if we want to have a successful rapid, aggressive and well coordinated response to a major spill.”

The report includes specific recommendations for Ecology including:

The transboundary workgroup was chartered by the Pacific States-British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force. The task force was created in 1989 in the wake of a 231,000-gallon oil spill in December 1988 off the Washington coast near Ocean Shores. The spill fouled beaches from northern Oregon to Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

The task force is made up of senior executives from the environmental agencies with oil spill regulatory authority in Washington, British Columbia, Oregon, California, Alaska and Hawaii.

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