Rolfes sponsors bill to improve state response to oil spills

Imagining how life would change if the Puget Sound was struck with a catastrophe like the BP oil spill is not a comforting thought for anyone who enjoys the body of water surrounding Bainbridge Island.

It wasn’t a thought state Rep. Christine Rolfes wanted to consider either. Rather than speculate as to what might happen, the Bainbridge Island Democrat wants to fix any shortcomings in the state’s response capabilities now.

Rolfes and Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, are sponsoring a bill that was expected to be introduced to the State Legislature Thursday to bring the state’s response to an oil spill to the next level, and better protect local waters from the potential of a catastrophic spill.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Friday in front of the environmental committee and a hearing for the bill will be slated in the next couple weeks.

“Right now our spill response capabilities are pretty good for a small to mid-size spill,” said Rolfes. “But no one really wanted to take the next step to prepare for a disaster. It would be so easy for a serious spill to destroy everything we have been working towards in cleaning up the Sound.

“The economic impacts of a big oil spill, not to mention our quality of life and property damage would be immense,” Rolfes continued. “Our hope is to pay now to avoid paying later.”

After the report from the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Rolfes saw the need to enhance Washington’s capacity to respond to a large oil spill as a major priority. The Puget Sound Partnership and the Oil Spill Advisory Council have also indicated a need for around-the-clock equipment to avoid the challenges encountered in the BP disaster.

Though the state does not have any offshore drilling, Rolfes said the 4,000 tankers delivering 15 billion gallons of oil each year need to be taken seriously and unlike the Gulf of Mexico an oil spill here cannot easily disperse into the ocean. The State Department of Ecology has estimated that a significant oil spill could cause $10.8 billion in economic losses and affect 165,000 jobs in Washington.

Rolfes’ bill would require oil companies in the state to have prompt access to state of the art equipment and direct them to stockpile spill cleanup around the clock. Equipment needs to be compatible in Washington’s waters and have the ability to handle high waves, strong currents, night conditions and heavy fog.

Through the bill, DOE would also conduct large-scale in-water drills to test preparedness; require the industry to train and prepare local fishermen; and ensure local emergency management centers are equipped and prepared before a spill ever occurs.

Rolfes said many of the bill’s proposals come from recommendations that have already been made, but never implemented due to a lack of political will and funding from the state.

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