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Preventing oil spills

Preventing spills is more cost-effective than response, cleanup, and restoration. We're aiming for a zero spills strategy to prevent any oil or hazardous substances from entering waters of the state. We do this work because Washington's waters are a treasured environmental and economic resource that the state can't afford to place at undue risk from an oil spill.

Prevention is the best protection

Vessels, pipelines, and trains transport oil into Washington through some of the most unique and special marine environments in the United States. These environments are a source of natural beauty, recreation, sustenance, and economic livelihood for many residents and tribal members.

Technologies for containing and cleaning up a spill of oil or hazardous substances are, at best, only partially effective. The Washington Legislature determined that spill prevention is the best method to protect marine environments. 

Spill prevention at work

We employ experienced maritime professionals and engineers to carry out our mission. We believe the best solutions for oil spill prevention require a collective effort with our regulated community. We work directly with the oil and maritime industries, tribes, members of the public, and non-profit groups to identify the best available technologies and practices needed to prevent oil spills.

We collect data and conduct studies that:

We educate and promote prevention by:

Among our regulatory work, we:

  • Provide technical outreach, design standards, and rules for oil storage, transfer, and containment facilities.
  • Evaluate spill prevention plans, oil transfer operations, and oil-handler training programs.
  • Inspect vessels, facilities, and oil transfer operations.
  • Investigate spill incidents and supporting enforcement actions, if needed.

Learn more about our regulatory work.

We also maintain the rules that guide our spill prevention standards and requirements. We update them as needed to follow trends and developments in the industry and to embrace new spill prevention technologies. Our staff provide technical outreach in the form of written guidance and in-person site assessments to work directly with the regulated community on preventing spills.

Working with industry

We can only achieve our zero spills goal through a collaborative effort with oil-handling and transportation industries. We use professionals with experience in the energy, transportation, and maritime sectors, often employing licensed mariners and engineers to conduct spill prevention work over Washington's waters.

Our regulated community consists of a variety of industries and private businesses that refine, transport, and supply oil products throughout Washington. In addition to serving as a resource for recommended spill prevention technologies and practices, we review plans, manuals, staff training programs, and conduct inspections to implement the best achievable protection for:

  • Oil-handling facilities, such as refineries, oil storage and marine fueling terminals, mobile oil suppliers, and certain marinas and boatyards.
  • Non-recreational vessels, such as tank, cargo, passenger, and fishing.

We also investigate oil spill incidents wherever they occur in the state. This includes oil-handling facilities, vessels, pipelines, and railroads. We conduct root-cause analyses of each incident to identify the underlying cause of the spill, which allow us to develop specific recommendations for corrective and preventive actions in future operations.