Washington State Moving Ahead With Oil Spill Contingency Planning RulePrint PDF
August 7, 2003
The Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) Spill Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Program has announced plans to amend and consolidate the requirements of the decade-old vessel and facility oil spill contingency plans (Chapter 173-181 WAC Facility Contingency Plan and Response Contractor Standards and Chapter 317-10 WAC Vessel Contingency Plan and Response Contractor Standard) into one updated rule. This rulemaking will affect all vessels, facilities, and pipelines required to plan for oil spills. At this time Ecology has not determined whether the state standards will be stricter than the federal standards; however, when possible, the amended rule will remain consistent with federal and State of Oregon laws and standards and will meet all statutory mandates under current conditions.
Ecology is in the early stages of the rule amendment process and is open to dialogue with interested parties regarding the proposed changes. Opportunities for submitting comments will occur periodically as the process continues. Interested parties should take advantage of these opportunities to work with Ecology to attempt to ensure that these changes do not adversely impact their operations.
The Rule Revision Process
The rule revision process began in February 2002 when Ecology filed a “preproposal statement of inquiry,” in which the agency outlined its intent to explore the necessity of updating and streamlining the state’s spill contingency planning rules. Subsequently, Ecology held statewide meetings regarding the new approach to the rule in spring/summer of 2002. The Oil Spill Rule Advisory Committee (the Committee) — consisting of representatives from environmental and industrial groups — then began holding meetings on the rulemaking on September 12, 2002. The purpose of the committee’s meetings is to provide a forum in which stakeholders can discuss the steps Ecology is taking to forge consensus on several key issues before revising the rule language.
At the May 29 meeting of the Committee, Ecology announced the preparation of a database for modeling spill scenarios to measure impacts of oil spills on several sensitive areas throughout Washington. The information in this database will help Ecology to evaluate the physical, biological, and economic impacts of oil spills in at least five Washington environments: the outer coast, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Puget Sound, the Columbia River, and a major inland river. The time frame for completion of these models is September to early November 2003.
Ecology will use the results from the technical models to perform a cost/benefit analysis of levels of oil spill preparedness in each of the five environments or sensitive areas within them. This study will be influenced by the interpretation given to the statutory requirement that contingency plans “be designed to....promptly and properly, to the maximum extent practicable...remov[e] oil and minimiz[e] any damage to the environment resulting from a worst case spill.” (RCW 88.46.060 (vessel contingency plans), RCW 90.56.210 (oil and hazardous substance contingency plans))
The cost/benefit analysis will address two issues: (1) whether the rule update is justifiable under a cost/benefit analysis; and (2) whether the cost/benefit analysis justifies a state standard that exceeds the federal standard. A cost estimation model will include oil spill response and cleanup costs; environmental and socioeconomic impacts; and long-term financial, cultural, and natural resource damages caused by a spill in a particular location. Ecology expects to complete the cost/benefit analysis at some point between October and early December 2003.
Ecology is also looking at statistics relating to Washington spill incidents to better understand when, why, and where spills occur. Ecology will look for patterns in the location, volume, and product type involved in prior spills to identify the best place to position critical response resources, as well as the makeup of those resources. Although controversial due to environmental concerns, Ecology will also study the benefits of dispersants, possibly as part of the modeling of the outer coast spill scenario. No decision has been made on the use of dispersants in Washington, or whether the rule update will be more restrictive than current federal standards regarding their use.
Once Ecology has gathered the information and completed the analysis described above, the agency will work with the Committee to draft and issue the proposed rule update for public comment.
Impact on Interested Parties
At the May 29 meeting of the Committee, various interested parties had an opportunity to voice their concerns regarding the potential rule amendment. Environmental groups indicated that they have misgivings about several issues, including their concern that the oil industry’s financial investment in spill preparedness has noticeably tapered off over the past few years. Specifically, while these groups praise industry efforts to prevent spills, they are not satisfied that if spills do occur, sufficient resources are available to avert significant environmental damage. As such, these groups are pushing for preparedness requirements significantly more costly than those in place under current state and federal standards. Another key debate involves the cost/benefit analysis of the rule, and more specifically, whether costs in the study model should include those incremental costs associated with preparedness requirements that exceed the current federal standards. Ecology’s position appears to be directed toward meeting the statutory mandate, which may mean setting standards based upon what is determined to be the “maximum practical” level of preparedness resources in each designated area of concern. Stakeholders, particularly business and industry representatives, are opposing state standards that would be more strict than the federal standards. Many of these interests argue that although company investment in spill preparedness may have lessened, investment in prevention has increased significantly.
Ecology is seeking the best information available to determine appropriate levels of preparedness. Interested parties should take advantage of these opportunities to work with Ecology to attempt to ensure that these changes do not adversely impact their operations. The Committee meetings are open to the public, and time is granted at each meeting for public comment. Ecology is also accepting information relevant to the oil spill study. Other opportunities for submitting comments to Ecology, both informally and through the formal rulemaking process, will occur periodically as the process continues.