Olympic Tug & Barge fined for Port Angeles oil spill

The following is the text of a news release from the Washington State Department of Ecology:

(OLYMPIA, Wash.) — The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) is fining Olympic Tug & Barge of Seattle $16,500 for spilling oil into Port Angeles Harbor last November. The spill occurred when a company-owned fuel barge was overfilled while being loaded with fuel oil.

Ecology determined the Nov. 7, 2012, heavy fuel oil spill occurred because of an error by the barge operator. More than 1,700 gallons of fuel spilled to the deck of the barge with nearly 50 gallons entering Port Angeles Harbor.

The oil transfer was being conducted at the Tesoro Port Angeles Terminal located at the foot of the spit Ediz Hook. Olympic Tug & Barge had oil containment boom placed around the barge prior to starting the fuel transfer which helped contain the spill. Ecology requires "pre-booming" of large-volume oil transfers over water as directed by changes to state law in 2007.

A unified command involving the U.S. Coast Guard, Ecology and Olympic Tug & Barge was formed to oversee contractors who cleaned up the spilled oil from the barge and harbor. The contractors were paid by Olympic Tug & Barge, a wholly owned subsidiary of Harley Marine Services. The company also must reimburse Ecology for expenses related to the incident, as required by state law. In May, the company paid a natural resources damage assessment of $963.

Olympic Tug & Barge immediately responded to the spill and notified federal and state authorities.

"The company cooperated with the authorities throughout the cleanup and assisted them in the investigation into the cause of the incident, ultimately leading to appropriate corrective actions being put into place to prevent a recurrence," said Sven Christensen, general manager of Olympic Tug & Barge.

Jim Sachet, Spill Response Team supervisor, said: "Even though Olympic Tug & Barge acted quickly to recover oil in Port Angeles Harbor and clean the barge, this spill should not have happened. This is another example of the effectiveness of Washington’s approach to requiring oil transfers to be ‘pre-boomed.’ Without the boom in place as a precaution, the heavy fuel oil would have spread much farther and could have caused significantly more damage. Any spill, regardless of size, causes environmental harm."

Oil is toxic to the environment and the damage starts as soon as the oil enters water. A single quart of oil has the potential to pollute more than 100,000 gallons of water.

Port Angeles Harbor is home to many marine species including pinto abalone, hard-shell clams and shorebirds. Farther out in the harbor, there are pandalid shrimp and Dungeness crab. Streams and creeks draining into the harbor also support resident cutthroat and steelhead trout. Docks, piers and other floating structures near the spill site also provide harbor seal haul outs year round. Haul-out sites are areas where mother harbor seals give birth, bond, and raise their young out of the water.

Olympic Tug & Barge may appeal the penalty to the Pollution Control Hearings Board within 30 days.

Ecology does not benefit from spill penalty payments. The final penalty amount owed and collected is deposited in special state accounts that pay for environmental restoration and enhancement projects.

By Professional Mariner Staff