Spill program advises caution on crude plans

Two state officials making a presentation at a Port of Grays Harbor commission meeting Tuesday urged caution and care when considering crude oil storage and shipping proposals.

Dale Jensen is program manager of Ecology’s Spill Prevention, Preparedness & Response Program, and brought Spill Manager Chip Booth to the meeting. They’re in the unenviable position of being responsible for hazardous materials cleanup in many areas — including rail lines — where they have no oversight authority.

They make it work, Jensen said, building relationships and trying to establish the “best achievable protection” for the ships, pipelines and refineries that work with oil and petroleum products in Washington.

“It’s interesting now with the crude-by-rail, because that’s a change in the system. It’s just a different way of thinking about how we prepare,” he said. “It becomes a little bit different picture, and we’re looking at how we learn about the movement of rail, where the influence points are to put in place the highest prevention and preparedness measures.”

He said the program has been working with Burlington Northern Santa Fe to learn more about rail transport.

Right now, only the Tesoro Refinery in Anacortes receives crude oil by rail, although several other refineries have plans in the works. Three proposals for storing and shipping crude oil at the Port of Grays Harbor are in the planning stages; existing tenants Imperium Renewables and Westway Terminals are looking to expand their operations to include crude, and U.S. Development Group has begun looking at a new facility.

About 20 billion gallons of petroleum products move through Washington every year, Jensen said. The issue that makes crude-by-rail stand out is the overland movement of a persistent product, meaning it stays in the environment a long time if it’s spilled.

“This is really the first time we’ve had a persistent product like crude oil moving all the way through near our rivers and streams,” Jensen said.

A big focus is on “pre-booming” waters where oil transfers will occur. In other words, putting floats around an area where ships would be loading oil in the Port, for example, so that if any is spilled, it’s in a contained area.

“Our studies show that if you have just free floating oil on the water, we can only recover 10 percent of that oil,” Booth said. With pre-booming, that jumps to 80 percent.

They recommended using the Port’s Harbor Safety Committee, a non-regulatory body where stakeholders can come together and sound out issues and act as a resource for governmental bodies.

“We think it would be prudent to engage in increased risk assessment. We think we have a pretty good system here … but there might be aspects that we haven’t thought about,” Booth said.

“The encouraging thing is people really are trying to do their best in figuring out how we can achieve our highest level of prevention,” Jensen said.

He had high praise for Imperium.

“They’ve been a company that has leaned forward, looked for ways to put higher standards in place. I wouldn’t see that being different going forward. Nobody wants to spill,” Jensen said.

They haven’t worked with Westway much yet, but the company has begun to reach out and ask questions. It won’t have to submit preparedness plans until shortly before its new facility begins operating, if the proposal makes it through the permitting and regulatory hurdles ahead.