Input sought on Chehalis River Basin Oil Spill Plans

The state Department of Ecology has completed a draft contingency plan outlining how responders would tackle an oil spill near the Chehalis River. The plan is available for public review and comment now through May 8.

The plan is posted at www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/spills/preparedness/GRP/ChehalisRiver/ChehalisRiver.htm

The Chehalis River covers almost 120 miles as it winds through Thurston, Lewis and Grays Harbor counties. The draft plan includes 60 strategies meant to reduce damage to sensitive natural, cultural and economic resources during an oil spill.

“This plan covers the second-largest watershed in Washington,” Kathy Taylor, acting program manager for Ecology’s Spill Prevention, Preparedness and Response program, said in a press release. “With the rapid changes in oil transport, particularly with crude by rail, it’s important we have plans in place to protect our precious natural resources.”

The plan considers risks from oil trains, an oil pipeline and tanker trucks. A 25-mile stretch of the Olympic Pipeline crosses several tributaries of the Chehalis River, while oil trains travel on tracks that also cross the Chehalis’ tributaries.

“There was (no plan) for the Chehalis before. Previous studies only had the lower few miles of the river because most spills were on the marine side, until oil trains,” said Wendy Buffett, resources at risk planner in the spills program for Ecology.

She said the department did have plans for inland spills, but those were primarily for tanker trucks that carry about 20,000 gallons, not the 3 million often carried by oil trains.

“It kind of just changed our focus of where the risks are coming from,” she said. “That’s part of why we’re going back and updating the plans.”

The Chehalis River plan is one of eight geographic response plans Ecology aims to complete before June 30, using special funding from the Legislature.

A Department of Ecology study released March 1 on oil transport in Washington shows significant risks posed by the changing energy picture, and in particular by the growth of crude oil by rail.

Comments on the spill response plan for the Chehalis River can be emailed to grps@ecy.wa.gov or mailed to Washington Department of Ecology, Spill Prevention, Preparedness, and Response (MLCC-GRP), P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504-7600.