Oil spill scare off coast of Port Angeles shows readiness pays

Nov 9, 2012

A small oil spill this week in Port Angeles turned out to be a lot less severe than originally feared.  Clean-up crews are still working to get sticky residue out of the the harbor. But the incident shows how preparedness can pay off.

Washington state put laws in place six years ago that did just what they were intended to do early Wednesday morning, according to the Department of Ecology.

The spill was reported in the dark hours of dawn.  Someone at the Tesoro oil terminal in Port Angeles overfilled the tank on a barge operated by Harley Marine Services. The original estimate was that as much as 840 gallons of thick black fuel was cascading into the harbor, and possibly headed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  

Curt Hart with the state's oil spill response division says when they get a call like that, they spring into action immediately. Because the oil in that kind of a large-scale fuel-transfer operation is moving very fast. 

“… at a rate of about 500 gallons a minute. So it’s very rapid and you could easily get a big volume spill, even if it just went on unnoticed for just a minute or two, there’d be a thousand gallons or more that could potentially get into the water," Hart says.

He says Washington has a huge number of these kinds of transfers happening every day: about 14,000 annually according to records kept as part of the regulatory process.

In Port Angeles, the overflow was caught quickly. Only about a hundred gallons spilled and most of it stayed on the barge deck. The oil that did hit the water was contained with several rings of booms that were set up around the barge before the fueling operation began. Those are mandated by a Washington state law, which the legislature developed in 2006 to prevent major oil spills.

"Washington was the first state in the country to actually adopt rules requiring large-volume transfers over water to be pre-boomed," Hart says. "And it's made a difference here in Washington state."

Harley Marine will have to pay for the recovery operations. But Hart says it’s a lot less expensive for them than if there were a bigger accident.