Spills Program rules and laws

Rules and laws guide our spill prevention, planning, and response work. These regulations help us prevent oil spills and prepare for a rapid, aggressive, and well-coordinated response when spills do occur.

Rules that direct our Spills Program work

Oil handling and oil transfer requirements

We have spill prevention and early response standards for oil handling facilities that transfer oil to or from non-recreational vessels or pipelines, and for vessel operators involved in bulk oil transfers over water. For more information on these requirements:

Read the rules:

On June 6, 2023, Ecology adopted amendments to both rules to implement updates to RCW 88.46.165. For more information about the rulemaking, visit our website at https://ecology.wa.gov/Regulations-Permits/Laws-rules-rulemaking/Rulemaking/WAC-173-180-173-184

Oil spill contingency planning and financial responsibility

Washington state requires larger oil handling facilities, pipelines, commercial vessels, and railroads to have state-approved oil spill contingency plans. The state also requires mobile facilities to have spill response plans. Both types of plans describe the plan holder's ability to respond to oil spills. In addition, Washington state requires that certain types of vessels have financial responsibility to pay for oil spill response.

Read the rules:

On January 19, 2024, Ecology formally proposed a new chapter of rule, Chapter 173-187 WAC Financial Responsibility. The rulemaking will ensure that vessels and facility owners and operators have adequate financial resources to pay cleanup and damage costs arising from an oil spill. As part of this rulemaking, the existing Chapter 317-50 WAC – Financial Responsibility for Small Tank Barges and Oil Spill Response Barges, will be incorporated into the new rule and then repealed. For information about the rulemaking, visit our website at https://ecology.wa.gov/Regulations-Permits/Laws-rules-rulemaking/Rulemaking/WAC-173-187.

Natural resource damage assessments

Anyone responsible for spilling oil into state waters is liable for damages resulting from injuries to natural, cultural and historic, and publicly owned resources. We work with other federal, state, and local agencies, and tribes to determine how best to assess injuries and restore impacted resources. The process for determining damages for an oil spill is called a Natural Resource Damage Assessment, which is defined by rule in Washington.

Read the rule:

Notification for oil movement by rail and pipeline

This rule establishes requirements for providing notice of crude oil being transported by rail and pipeline through the state. Notice of oil transport allows local emergency responders to prepare for responding to oil-related incidents from rail and pipeline transport. More information about the requirements of this rule and guidance for regulated businesses can be found on our Advance notice of oil transfer page.

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Cargo and passenger vessel inspections

We conduct inspections to determine if ships operating in state waters pose a substantial risk of harm to the environment or the public. We developed safety standards based on international and federal requirements and accepted industry standards that help identify risky vessels. Ships that operate below these standards likely pose a higher risk of spilling oil or causing other harm to state waters. More information on vessel inspections and guidance to help vessel operators prepare for inspections can be found at Inspecting ships for substantial risks

Read the rule:

Bunkering operations

We have rules to promote the safe, spill-free bunkering of ships operating in Washington's waters. Our rules apply to operations refueling large vessels and include requirements for staff training, pre-planning, safe access, and communication protocols. More information and guidance for complying with the rule can be found at Bunkering requirements for ships

Read the rule:

Another rule that guides our work

Key state laws that direct this work

Our rules are authorized by several state laws. Key state laws that give the Spills Program authority include: