Contingency planning for oil industry

We require oil-handling operations — such as facilities, pipelines, large commercial vessels, and railroads — to have oil spill contingency plans that detail how they would respond to oil spills. We review the plans and test them in complex deployment and tabletop drills as part of our public service.

Map of 64-mile Trans Mountain Puget Sound Pipeline entering Washington from the north and ending at refineries in Ferndale and Anacortes. The pipeline passes just east of Bellingham on its way to Anacortes.

Update: Trans Mountain Puget Sound Pipeline

Update on Dec. 26, 2018
We required a revised oil spill response plan for the Washington spur of the Trans Mountain Puget Sound Pipeline that is more protective of Puget Sound and declining populations of orcas.
The improvements came after we found deficiencies in an earlier version of the plan submitted in September.
The pipeline poses a risk to Puget Sound because it crosses the Nooksack River twice, the Samish River, Swinomish Channel, and many creeks along the east side of Padilla Bay.
As part of the new requirements, Trans Mountain will follow procedures and systems in the Northwest Area Contingency Plan, a locally tailored part of a national framework that guides how the Northwest responds to oil and hazardous material spills. In the event of a spill, the plan guides responders to watch for orcas and herd them away.
The revised plan also reflects directives of the Washington state Legislature and includes:

  • Additional procedures and systems to better respond to non-floating oils that align with Washington state law and regional policies, tools, and guidance.
  • Specifics about an approved contractor that can provide Trans Mountain with specialized equipment to assess, contain, and recover non-floating oils.
  • Better identification of salmon and other resources at risk during a spill.

The state required a new plan because ownership of the pipeline transferred to the federal Canadian government. New owners and operators are required by law to have a new spill response plan.
The pipeline serves refineries in Anacortes and Ferndale.

July 19, 2018 –  We received an updated oil spill contingency plan for the existing 64-mile spur of the Trans Mountain Puget Sound Pipeline that operates in Washington. As the expressed owner of the pipeline, the Canadian government is required by law to have an approved spill response plan for the pipeline.

July 25 - Aug. 25, 2018 – We held a 30-day public comment period on the plan and received 14,000 comments. 

Sept. 24, 2018 – After reviewing the draft Trans Mountain oil spill contingency plan and all of the comments we received, we gave the company 60 days to correct deficiencies in it so it meets Washington’s current standards. Background: Sept. 24, 2018, news release

Nov. 21, 2018 – We received a revised plan for the Trans Mountain Puget Sound Pipeline.

Dec. 26, 2018 – We approved the plan. 

Oil spill contingency planning

Washington state requires larger oil-handling facilities, pipelines, commercial vessels, and railroads to have state-approved oil spill contingency plans. These plans describe the plan holder's ability to respond to oil spills. Plans include information on spill response procedures, equipment, safety, communications, and training.

Each company is required to develop, maintain, and test their contingency plan. We review and approve plans on a five-year cycle. The oil spill contingency plan rule requires a 30-day public review and comment period for plan updates.

Guidance and assistance for specific industries


On August 31, 2016, we adopted a new rule for railroads. The adoption of this rule requires railroads to develop and maintain contingency plans. The rule applies to all railroads (not owned by the state) operating in Washington that transport bulk oil as cargo. The rule went into effect on October 1, 2016.

Assistance documentation

Facilities & pipelines Vessels