Department of Ecology News Release - March 4, 2016

Assessing oil spill risks on Columbia River and Puget Sound

OLYMPIA – The way oil is transported through Washington continues to change, and so do the risks for oil spills. More vessels are transporting oil through state waters, increasing the risk of a catastrophic oil spill.

The Washington Department of Ecology has hired Det Norske Veritas (USA) Inc. to develop a vessel traffic evaluation and safety risk assessment for potential oil spills on the Columbia River. George Washington University has been hired to update the 2010 Puget Sound vessel traffic risk assessment.

“The Columbia River has not been looked at from a safety perspective as a whole body of work,” said Scott Ferguson, project manager for Ecology. “With all the changes in the type and mode of oil transportation that travel through the area, we need to perform a system-wide review of the river from the Oregon/Washington border to Idaho.”

Ferguson said that because of the changing transportation energy picture and lift of the U.S. crude oil export ban that occurred in December, the time is right to update the assessment for the Puget Sound.

In 2015, Legislature asked Ecology to develop the reports as part of the Oil Transportation Safety Act. Both contractors will work closely with Ecology’s technical team, statewide stakeholders and tribes to produce a complete assessments that looks at:

  1. the need for tug escorts for oil tankers, articulated tug barges, and other towed vessels or barges;
  2. vessel-traffic management and practices;
  3. required tug capabilities (including propulsion, equipment and operations) to help safely escort vessels and;
  4. any previous analysis.

The U.S. Coast Guard, Washington and Oregon Pilots association Harbor Safety committees, tribes and public ports are some of the organizations Ecology will consult with.

“Today, more than 1,000 vessels use the Columbia River annually,” said Ferguson. “We expect numbers to grow there, and in the Puget Sound, where more than 2,600 vessels arrive each year. That’s why this risk and safety work is so important now.”

The Columbia River evaluation and assessment is slated for completion in 2018. The first draft will be provided to the Legislature in 2017. The Puget Sound update is slated for completion in 2017. More information about oil transportation in Washington state is available on Ecology’s website.


Lisa Copeland, communications, 360-407-6990, @EcySW

Scott Ferguson, project manager, 360-407-7465