Inslee targets oil spills

Limits on traffic through Puget Sound were maintained through legislation.

Rep. Jay Inslee helped strike down a portion of an energy bill that would have reduced oil-tanker traffic limits in Puget Sound.

“Common sense prevailed today,” the Bainbridge congressman said Thursday, “because unlimited oil traffic means an unlimited risk of oil spills.”

Inslee has been a strong opponent of the Gasoline Security for America Act’s proposed changes to the Magnuson Amendment, a 28-year-old rule that capped oil refinery expansion and the number of tankers moving through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The amendment is credited with reducing the risk of oil spills in the region.

Crafted by the late U.S. Sen. Warren Magnuson, D-Seattle, the amendment bars oil companies from expanding their Puget Sound operations beyond the growing energy needs of Washington residents.

Fifteen billion gallons of oil move across the sound in 600 ships every year. A U.S. Coast Guard analysis of oil spills from 1981 to 1989 in the sound shows that the most common release of oil occurs during fuel transfers, usually involving smaller vessels releasing a maximum of several hundred gallons of diesel fuel.

The largest vessel spill in the Puget Sound area occurred in 1985 when the Arco Anchorage tanker ran aground near Port Angeles spilling almost 240,000 gallons of crude oil, according to the Coast Guard.

The sound suffered 16 major spills between 1985 and 2001, with the release of over 2.2 million gallons of oil. Six spills in 1990 and 1991 released more than one half of this volume.

Since 1985, shore-based facilities accounted for 52 percent of sound spills of more than 10,000 gallons, according to the state Puget Sound Action Team. The remaining 48 percent of oil released in major spills was evenly split between spills from pipelines (26 percent) and vessels and barges (23 percent).

Inslee was particularly concerned about last October’s Dalco spill, which soiled Vashon Island’s shores with over 1,000 gallons of oil spilled from a ConocoPhillips tanker.

Remnants of the spill were also noted by scientists on Bainbridge Island.

Inslee credits Congressman Dave Reichert (R-Auburn), for his help in defeating the changes. As the only Washington Republican to voice concerns about the bill, Reichert’s opinion helped sway his party members, Inslee said.

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