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Recommendation: 24

Status: Underway

Reduce the threat of oil spills in Puget Sound to the survival of Southern Residents.


Action 1

Begin developing rules requiring tug escort of large oil tankers and barges.

Action 2

Pass a law preventing shoreline or seafloor structures for oil and gas development off of Washington’s coast.

Action 3

Update oil spill prevention and cleanup standards to address new types of oil and increased use of articulated tug barges.

Action 4

Support a requirement to station a rescue tug in Haro Strait and other busy oil tanker travel routes to minimize emergency response time.

Implementation Details

Using recommendations from the Washington Department of Ecology’s Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound Vessel Traffic Safety Report (2018), the 2019 Washington State Legislature should enact legislation to reduce the risk of oil spills in Puget Sound. The legislation should do the following:

  • Initiate zone-based rulemaking on tug escort requirements for oil-laden tank vessels, including barges (more than 5,000 tons but less than 40,000 dead weight tons, oil barges, and articulated tug-barges.
  • Support the requirement for a rescue tug to be stationed in a location to minimize response time in Haro Strait and other navigation lanes with the highest tank vessel traffic.
  • Require updated oil spill prevention and cleanup standards to address new types of oil (for example, diluted bitumen) and increased shipments by articulated tug-barges. The Governor should meet with Canadian officials and seek involvement from the U.S. Coast Guard and the joint meetings of the Puget Sound Harbor Safety Committee and Canadian Pacific Coast Marine Advisory Review Panel and Navigation Aids and Navigation Services. The Governor should direct the Departments of Ecology and Fish and Wildlife to engage in Canadian environmental assessments of project-related shipping’s cumulative effects on Southern Residents (such as Roberts Bank Terminal 2).

Recent Progress

  • The Legislature passed a law that improves the safety of oil transportation. The law sets tug escort requirements for large oil tankers in Puget Sound and for small oil tankers and other vessels in Rosario Strait and connected waterways. The law also requires the Board of Pilotage Commissioners to adopt rules for all tug escorts in Puget Sound by December 31, 2025.
  • The Legislature awarded the Department of Ecology $1.3 million to implement the Safety of Oil Transportation Act and develop and maintain a model to assess the risks of oil spills in Washington waters.
  • The University of Washington’s Sea Grant program received $170,000 in 2021 to continue an oil spill response education program.
  • The Department of Fish and Wildlife has broadened the availability of staff and vessels to deter orcas from entering oil spill areas.
  • More information can be found on WDFW’s oil spill prevention and response website.

More details may be found in the progress reports in the resources library.