This blog is a joint publication from the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMSA) and Ecology’s Spill Prevention, Preparedness and Response Program.
Washington now has the lowest spill rate in the nation from commercial vessels engaging in international and coastwise trade, calling on Puget Sound ports. Working with our partners, such as the shipping industry, federal agencies, and other stakeholders we have continued to improve the shipping system to not only safely use these waterways but also to protect the environment. Continuing the work with our partners, we are building on our environmental stewardship record and working to provide more jurisdictional clarity, proactive management, and continuous improvement and collaboration.
How did we get here?
In the 1970s and 1980s, several major oil spills spurred changes to improve safety in the oil transportation sector. In the United States, this tends to bring up visions of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. The resulting Oil Pollution Act of 1990 implemented a wide range of enhanced safety, liability, and enforcement standards, which was an important leap forward in safety.
The next leap came from the Coast Guard, when they changed their marine safety program to be proactive, moving beyond just tanker safety. At the same time, the International Maritime Organization also shifted to proactive marine safety improvements across the shipping spectrum.
In the late 1990s, Washington created the Spills Program at Ecology, so that we could bring prevention, preparedness, and response improvements to the forefront. We now had a clear role and worked with the federal government to increase engagement with our stakeholders. This new partnership led to a more productive relationship across the state, federal government, Tribes, and local stakeholders.
These programs helped provide the framework for the shipping industry to make continuous improvements. The industry created advancements like better vessel design and construction, better navigation technology, tank vessel tug escorts, vessel traffic management, and crew competency. In addition, voluntary measures like Standards of Care in the Puget Sound Harbor Safety Plan, which was developed in partnership with the Puget Sound Harbor Safety Committee, continue to provide another layer of safety.
Meanwhile, here at Ecology, we continue to advance oil spill planning and preparedness alongside our federal partner, the Coast Guard. Our umbrella plan approach ensures that all vessels entering Washington have spill response capability through a single contractor they could all tie into for their oil spill planning. In addition, our geographic response plans minimize environmental damage from a spill by protecting environmentally, culturally, and economically sensitive areas.
In 2009, we began contingency plans that required vessels to provide an Emergency Response Towing Vessel. The tug, stationed at Neah Bay, responds to vessels in need in the Strait of Juan de Fuca areas. Partners weren’t sure about the usefulness of a tug, but through close collaboration a rightsized tug was chosen. Since its inception, it has aided many vessels in distress, preventing potentially devastating spills. This is only one example of how collaboration across agencies and industry produces the best solutions.
We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to find best practices for both the industry and the environment.