Oil barge spill in Seattle

Oil barge spill in Seattle

SEATTLE - About 6,000 gallons of industrial fuel oil that spilled near Puget Sound from a refueling barge is causing significant environmental damage, particularly to about 400 acres of wetlands that comprise a Suquamish Indian tribe clam-digging reserve.

The cause of the Dec. 30 incident, which occurred as oil was being loaded into a Foss Maritime Co. barge at the Point Wells ChevronTexaco terminal near Shoreline, Wash., is under investigation by the Coast Guard and the state Department of Ecology. But initial reports said the barge was overfilled, pointing to possible human error or failure of equipment that shows when a tank is approaching the full mark.

Of the total spilled, 4,800 gallons entered the water, according to the Department of Ecology. It said 1,200 gallons were recovered from the barge deck.

Foss is the responsible party and is paying for the cleanup, which company spokesman Sam Sacco estimated at $1 million and climbing two days after the spill. More than 250 people responded and 24 response vessels (13 skimmers and 11 general support vessels) were deployed along with 9,200 feet of boom.

The Department of Ecology said about 105 square miles of water area was affected by the fast moving spill, and central Puget Sound resources at risk included eelgrass beds, salt marshes and spawning beaches for bait fish.

The state health department closed beaches along Port Madison Bay to all shellfish harvesting, including the shoreline of Indianola and the Suquamish Port Madison Indian Reservation.

State law does not require the deployment of containment booms on-site during fuel transfers on the Puget Sound, but environmental activists, scientists and lawmakers were quick to demand a law addressing this issue to prevent or at least better contain future incidents.

Bill DiBenedetto is managing editor of Pacific Shipper. He can be reached at bdibenedetto@pacificshipper.com