Washington’s Spill Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Program shows why it is a model for the nation

Report details Program’s activities and funding while outlining challenges

With more than 20 billion gallons of oil moving through Washington each year, the safe delivery, storage, and transportation of oil is a top priority. The risk of a spill is present every day. A large spill would have devastating effects on many sectors of the economy, the vitality of communities, and sensitive resources and wildlife that are already threatened by a diminished capacity to resist impacts from severe disturbances like oil spills.  

Two people in a boat cleaning up oily debris from water.

Responders clean up oily debris from Capitol Lake in Olympia in 2019.

As the risk of a spill in Washington has changed over time, our Spills Program has continued to adapt, setting high standards for the state and the nation. In 2018, the Legislature directed Ecology to submit a report containing a comprehensive overview of the Spills Program’s activities, funding sources and challenges, and recommendations for future funding options. That Activity and Funding Report is now published and available on our website

This report explains the level of work required to ensure Washington maintains a low spill rate. The prevention team conducts inspections of vessels, facilities, and oil transfers to guarantee that best practices are in place and assesses the potential risks that oil transportation poses to the state’s major waterways. The preparedness team ensures the state is ready to respond to worst-case oil spills from major oil-handling industry sectors. By preparing for the worst, the state is also prepared for spills of all sizes. If a spill does occur, Ecology responds in a rapid, aggressive, and well-coordinated manner 24 hours a day, seven days a week. After a spill, the program assists with restoration projects, ensuring injured resources are restored to their pre-spill condition. 

Two men in a boat looking at a fire.

Ecology spill responders make their way to a fire.

To conduct all of this work, the Spills Program relies on tax revenue from both the Oil Spill Administration Tax and the Oil Spill Response Tax. These two funding sources, commonly known as the barrel tax, have not been adjusted since 1998. Over the years, this revenue source has not kept pace with inflation, increased operating costs, fund transfers to other agencies, and new work as directed by the Legislature. Due to a lack of adequate revenue and reductions in appropriations, the program has relied on a series of one-time fund transfers to sustain ongoing operations.

A man taking notes while looking at pipes.

An Ecology inspector takes notes while observing piping. 

During the 2020 legislative session, the Legislature enacted our budget request, allowing the program to carry out state-mandated work through the 2027-29 biennium. Over time, the program may require additional resources as new legislative priorities emerge or a significant spill occurs. The Activity and Funding Report outlines future funding recommendations to consider when the time comes. For now, we will continue to protect the environment, communities, and economy from all spills occurring in Washington.