Equip fishing boats to fight oil spills

Op-ed: A bill in the legislature would give Washington state better chances of avoiding the kind of disaster seen in the Gulf of Mexico a year ago.

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Fishing boats in Seattle's Fishermen's Terminal. They could become part of oil-spill preparedness.

Op-ed: A bill in the legislature would give Washington state better chances of avoiding the kind of disaster seen in the Gulf of Mexico a year ago.

As members of tribal, commercial fishing, and environmental communities whose cultural, economic, and spiritual livelihoods depend on a healthy marine ecosystem in the NW, we join together to inform people of a rare opportunity to advance oil spill regulations without having to suffer a spill first. The state House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed HB 1186 bolstering the state’s ability to respond to large oil spills. It is now up to Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Marine Waters, to pass the same bill this Wednesday.

The record-sized BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill last Earth Day has focused the state Legislature on improving the oil industry’s ability to respond to a worst-case spill in Washington where BP runs the largest refinery. Three critical provisions in the House bill requires the oil industry to invest in state-of-the-art spill response equipment, train fishermen around the state in the deployment of such gear, and to conduct at least one large-scale oil spill equipment deployment drill every three years.

The oil industry testified during public hearings that they have one of the most robust spill response programs in the nation. While we appreciate their investment in manpower and equipment, the provisions in the House bill are needed if we are to avoid the shortcomings experienced along the Gulf Coast — as documented by the staff report from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

“We believe the facts illustrate that neither industry nor government has dedicated appropriate resources to clean-up technology since the Exxon Valdez spill, and that the Deepwater Horizon spill response suffered as a result,” the Commission wrote. “With the proper combination of dedicated funding and creative incentives, however, Commission staff believes that the existing technology gap could begin to close.”

What’s most important is the speed with which the gear can be deployed from the time of notification. Without faster response times and the ability to operate continuously in varying sea states along our diverse waterways, we’re relegated primarily to beach clean-ups, as in the past.

Communities in Prince William Sound rely heavily on fishermen deploying “current buster” boom developed for the North Sea oil fields (www.nofi.no) that not only can be deployed in currents 3-4 times faster than boom the industry stocks in Washington, but also stores the oil in a cod-end that can be skimmed out. The only such boom in Washington is owned by the Navy and was deployed in the Gulf. The state can further incentivize the use of this more expensive boom by giving the oil industry extra credit towards meeting their spill response requirements.

Although we don’t have oil rigs off our coast, oil tankers can spill up to 50 million gallons. Tanker traffic was at an all time high last year, partly due to the significant increase of Alberta crude oil piped to refineries in Cherry Point and Vancouver, British Columbia, for shipment to China and California by tanker and barge. Many barges are still not double-hulled.

Passing HB 1186 would protect the public trust and demonstrate our state senators have learned the lessons from the response to the Gulf spill. Doing so will go a long way toward assuring that the only oil we have in our fish is omega-3 fatty acids.


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