Oil Spills

Implement targeted and adaptive maritime oil spill prevention and safety measures and improve spill response readiness and capacity.
Although Puget Sound has experienced relatively few major oil spills over the past several decades, a major oil spill is inherently a low-probability, high-impact risk to Puget Sound’s valuable natural, cultural, and economic resources. We cannot wait for a catastrophic incident to make improvements to our spill prevention, preparedness, and response efforts. With vessel traffic projected to increase, the properties of the crude oil being conveyed (Canadian bitumen crude oil may weather and sink or submerge in water if spilled), and the precarious status of the Southern Resident Orca population underscores the importance of these measures. Current and future success depends on all of us having a shared vision and a commitment to continuous improvement.

The actions described below will ensure that prevention efforts are robust and targeted; preparedness efforts are comprehensive and well-coordinated, and response efforts are vigilant, nimble, and grounded in transparent, independent science. Preventing spills from happening in the first place is by far the most cost-effective and ecologically-sound approach.
  • Prevent oil spills

Analyze the cumulative risk and consequences of oil spills, assess the effectiveness and feasibility of mitigation measures, and target additional spill prevention efforts. (ID #64)

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 include:

  • Increase funding to complete assessments (for example, National Resource Damage) and baseline valuations to inform risk consequences assessments;
  • Improve consideration of non-monetizable values in risk assessments such as cultural, subsistence, spiritual, and other place-based values;
  • Improve Washington State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), transboundary coordination, and associated reviews of projects;
  • Assess and address any substantive contemporary changes in maritime shipping and recreational vessel dynamics that could markedly increase or concentrate marine traffic;
  • Ensure past regional risk modeling efforts and vetted guidance inform current and future assessments;
  • Explore implementation of advanced tracking of vessels carrying petroleum products that transit Puget Sound;
  • Increase public awareness of vessel traffic density and risk of oil spills to marine and estuarine resources;
  • Maintain and adapt our transboundary marine safety forums for advancement and coordination of proactive measures.

Strengthen and integrate spill response readiness of all partners, including federal, state, tribal nations, local government, oil spill response organizations, and transboundary partners*. (ID #65)

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 include:

  • Coordinate the newly administered United States Coast Guard (USCG) response strategies and the Northwest Area Contingency Plan (NWACP) such that consistent policies and tools are deployed to meet foundational and aspirational marine preparedness needs in Puget Sound;
  • Ensure that Washington’s spill response standards and tribal nations’ interests are incorporated into new federally recognized contingency plans for Sector Puget Sound;
  • Provide ongoing coordination with federal, tribal nations, state and local contingency planning partners, and the regulated community for these new plans, while enhancing opportunities for local, tribal nations, academic, nongovernmental, and interested communities to engage;
  • Add capacity for Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) deterrence including expanded deployment of vessels of opportunity and training;
  • Address the need for additional Emergency Response Towing Vessels for accident and oil spill prevention;
  • Provide funding to development and implement (for example, tools and strategies) to respond to non- floating oil products.

Increase capacity for early local response to spills and seek restoration using the best available science and technology. (ID #66)

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 include:

  • Enhance the capacity, communications, technology, and equipment to support effective responses in challenging, yet plausible environmental conditions;
  • Improve the long-term funding for—and integration of—local entities and tribal nations to participate in training, drills, planning, and volunteer development and deployment, and where appropriate, encourage respective transboundary authorities and First Nations to similarly support the capacity of their local entities;
  • Ensure that Geographic Response Plans (GRPs) are grounded in up-to-date habitat assessments that guide Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) restoration objectives and include input to that effect from relevant tribal nations and local partners;
  • Assess the effectiveness of spill response technology to address non-floating oil.
Implementation Considerations

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 to integrate human wellbeing considerations and climate change responses into efforts include:

Human Wellbeing

  • Better articulate connections between oil spills (of all scales) and their impacts on the Puget Sound ecosystem, including human health and communities.
  • Effectively and widely distribute locally relevant preparedness, planning, and response information and best management practices on individual, small- and large-scale oil spills to residents of Puget Sound.
  • Translate information on oil spills into locally relevant languages and a spectrum of media (for example, video, social media campaigns, preK-16 curricula, and phone) is leveraged to effectively reach communities.
  • Leverage community-based organizations to partner with for outreach and engagement to communities (for example, Sustainability Ambassadors, and Duwamish Alive).
  • Expand trainings (for example, community-based Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER), voluntary Vessel Turn-In Program (VTIP) opportunities, and more widely engage communities (for example, tribal nations, and local responders) in oil spill responses and clean up (for example, oilspills101.wa.gov).
  • Conduct training programs for recreational boaters (through Vessels of Opportunity) to participate in oil spill preparedness, planning, and response are created and enhanced.
  • Develop guidance that provides specific examples for how to hold accessible meetings (time, locations, incentives, compensation, etc.). This includes asking communities how they want to be involved.
  • Identify funding that can embed outreach expertise with technical staff on the ground to increase access and equity in communication and education coupled with oil spill prevention.
  • Outreach to and engagement with communities, especially those most likely to be impacted by current or future spills, to determine optimal pathways for residents to engage in local and regional spill preparedness, planning, response, and decision- making. Understand connections between how culturally significant terrestrial and aquatic foods sources are impacted or at risk of oil spills and how to expand protection sources
  • Include information on oil spill preparedness, planning, and response in navigational maps.
  • Training programs for natural resource industry companies and local government staff to participate in oil spill preparedness, planning, and response are created and enhanced.
  • Leverage existing city and county public meetings to synergize oil spill preparedness, planning, and response across jurisdiction and sector.
  • Create a coordinating body or hub to provide education, training, communication, and technical support to local groups around oil spills, invasive species, and boater best practices.
  • Identify vulnerable populations and underserved communities to the impacts of oil spills (of all scales) across Puget Sound.
  • State and federal resources to address the health impacts of oil spills are increased.
  • Effectively share timely, direct, clear, and locally relevant communication to impacted communities with information regarding health risks and mitigation measures.

Climate Change

  • Factor changing climate and ocean conditions including sea level rise and extreme weather events into oil spill risk analysis, prevention, and response efforts.
Ongoing Programs

Ongoing programs provide regulatory oversight, technical support, implementation resources, funding, or guidance and serve as the critical foundation for Puget Sound recovery. The following is a list of example state and federal ongoing programs that help to implement this strategy. Many more local, tribal nations, and nongovernmental programs exist that support this strategy.

What We're Measuring

We achieve our recovery goals of healthy human populations, healthy water quality, increasing functioning habitat and thriving species and food webs, and vibrant quality of life by reducing the risk and potential harm of spills of oil and hazardous substances to waterways. The indicator of success is reducing the number of oil spills/volume of oil spills to surface waters from all sources.

Financial damages from oil spills
Oil spills
Response equipment grants

Total estimated cost ($) of oil spill damages via Natural Resource Damage Assessments

Financial damages from oil spills

No reported data available

Volume of oil spilled from all sources to surface waters

Oil spills

No reported data available

Percentage of total emergency response equipment grant requests that were not funded

Current Legislative Actions (1 Bills)
2024 | State Bill SB 6164
Status: Passed