Rule implementation

In 2019 we conducted rulemaking to update two rules — Chapter 173-182 WAC, Oil Spill Contingency Plan Rule and Chapter 173-186 Oil Spill Contingency Plan - Railroad. The effective date of both rules is Jan. 18, 2020. 

Who is impacted by the rule?

The rules require large commercial vessels, oil handling facilities, pipelines, and railroads to have detailed contingency plans and contracts for appropriate equipment and trained personnel to respond to spills that may occur.

What are the benefits of contingency planning?

Contingency planning ensures regulated contingency plan holders are able to meet the following requirements:

  • Maximize the effectiveness and timeliness of oil spill response
  • Ensure continual readiness, maintenance of equipment and training of personnel
  • Support coordination with state, federal, tribal, and other contingency planning efforts
  • Provide protection for Washington waters, natural, cultural, and significant economic resources by minimizing the impact of oil spills
  • Provide the highest level of protection that can be met through the use of best achievable technology and those staffing levels, training procedures, and operational methods that constitute best achievable protection (BAP)

Contingency plan update requirements 

Six month phase-in - June 18, 2020

We're currently accepting applications for review and approval of spill management teams (SMT) and wildlife response service providers (WRSP). These entities must be approved by the state before regulated plan holders can cite them in contingency plans to help them meet the planning standard requirements.

12 month phase-in - Jan. 18, 2021

Vessel, facility and pipeline contingency plan holders must update their plans to demonstrate the necessary contracts, equipment, and training to meet the enhanced planning requirements. 

Sample plan update language, updated review checklists, and updated websites used to communicate the requirements, review, and update plans will be posted or linked on this site as they become available. 

18 month phase-in -  June 18, 2021

All plan holders (vessels, facilities, pipelines and railroads) must update their plans to include details about resources at risk from potentially non-floating oil spills. This requirement may be achieved through referencing updated Geographic Response Plans. Over the next 18 months Ecology will work to expand the spatial scope of GRPs to include the water column and benthic species at risk from non-floating oil spills. Ecology took on this key work because we recognize the value of stakeholder input and consider locals and tribes as essential partners in ensuring that GRPs are successful and useful. 

Vessel plan holders that enroll for contingency plan coverage under a umbrella contingency plan or a multi-vessel contingency plan must list an approved spill management team in their enrollment. The spill management team may be a contracted team or an in-house team.  

Type A and B railroads contingency plan holders must update their plans to meet the updated requirements. Sample plan language, review checklists, and other technical assistance tools will be linked here as they become available.

Type C railroad contingency plan holders must send a letter to ecology stating that the plan is complete and still meets all of the requirements. Current approved plans should not require any changes. 

24 month phase-in - January 18, 2022

Vessels and facilities that operate or transit in areas with the potential to impact whales, including Southern Resident killer whales, must have access to vessels of opportunity, equipment, and personnel to conduct monitoring, and deterrence operations to prevent whales from encountering spilled oil. 

The term vessel of opportunity (VOO) describes an organized system to preregister volunteer boat operators who can be quickly activated after a spill occurs and tasked with specialized response actions that supplement the fleets of professional spill responders. Before a spill, the participants will have varying levels of involvement as a volunteer, but once a spill occurs and the VOOs are activated, the boat operators will be paid. Creating a curriculum to improve and increase the preregistration and the number of trainings is a fundamental step to ensure the long term recovery of the Southern Resident killer whales.

Over the next few years Ecology will work collaboratively with USFWS, NMFS, NOAA, WDFW, and regulated plan holders to develop a training program for VOO vessels to support marine mammal deterrent operations. Initially outreach will be targeted to whale watching vessels but interested vessel owners are encouraged to sign up at

Once the pool of available vessels is identified, plan holders, or as applicable primary response contractors acting on behalf of plan holders, will vet the vessels and create a plan for contracting, call out, outfitting, and training.