Department of Ecology News Release - November 29, 2011

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Ecology approves oil spill readiness plan covering 1,000 vessels

OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) has approved the umbrella oil spill readiness plan that covers more than 1,000 commercial vessels that transit the Columbia River.

Ecology has given final approval for the Maritime Fire and Safety Association’s (MFSA) oil spill readiness – or contingency – plan. MFSA’s plan enrolls nearly all large cargo and passenger ships, commercial fish-processing vessels and oil tankers as well as some fuel barges that make transits in the shared waters of the Columbia River.

MFSA is based in Portland, Ore. The association’s plan covers commercial vessels from 3 miles west of the Columbia River mouth to the Glenn Jackson Bridge as well as the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers and down the Willamette to Willamette Falls.

The plan helps ensure that large commercial vessels can mount a rapid, aggressive and well-coordinated response if they spill oil.

A large containership, for example, can carry up to 3 million gallons of fuel to power its engines and propulsion systems. State law requires that all large commercial ships and vessels must have contingency plans to operate in Washington waters.

“This is a significant achievement because we have vessels from around the world that transit the Columbia River,” said Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, who oversees statewide oil spill preparedness activities for Ecology. “The MFSA plan gives us confidence that spillers can act quickly and mount an effective response.”

Pilkey-Jarvis said MSFA’s approved umbrella contingency plan also meets vessel emergency notification requirements under the state’s new oil spill readiness law passed by the 2011 Washington Legislature. When there is a significant spill threat – such as a grounding, collision or fire – vessel operators and state and federal officials can put MFSA’s plan into action and have equipment and people moving to the scene before a spill occurs.

“Umbrella oil spill contingency plans are good for business and our environment,” she said. “Individual operators don’t have to craft and maintain their own required contingency plans. Instead, they share costs with other operators to be covered a single, large spill readiness plan that’s designed to protect the unique shoreline resources in the Columbia River system. This approach helps keep our ports competitive.”

The plan identifies where different response equipment such as oil containment boom, skimming and towing vessels and vacuum trucks are located along the river – and how the equipment will be mobilized by private response entities during a spill to minimize impacts to important environmental, cultural and economic resources.

MSFA’s umbrella oil spill contingency plan is one of two large blanket plans in use for Washington’s waters. Ecology is still working with the Washington State Maritime Cooperative to give final approval for that plan covering about 1,500 vessels making transits in Puget Sound and Grays Harbor.

Every year, about 20 billion gallons of oil is transported across Washington waters. Besides the umbrella organizations, there are 28 oil refineries, large oil-handling facilities, liquid fuel pipeline and oil tanker companies that also are required to have oil spill contingency plans.

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Media Contact: Curt Hart, 360-407-6990; cell, 360-480-7908 (curt.hart@ecy.wa.gov

Ecology’s Spills Program (http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/spills/spills.html)

More about oil spill contingency plans (http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/spills/preparedness/cplan/cpmanagers.htm)