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Oil Spill Response

Oil spill collage

Click here to view the Story Map Shared Consequences: The Environment and Us

Many people are familiar with the large, catastrophic oil spills of national significance, such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill and the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.  However, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that in the U.S. there are 70 relatively smaller oil spills that occur every day. 

  • Washington State is a high-risk area for oil spills due to oil transport and processing. Oil spills threaten sensitive environments along the Pacific coast, Puget Sound, the Columbia River, and our busy river systems. 

    More than 15 billion gallons of oil are shipped annually through Washington State waters.  A major spill from any of the vessels that transit here – oil tankers, fuel barges, large cargo vessels, commercial fish-processing vessels and passenger ships – could dump millions of gallons to Washington waters. Unlike the BP Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a major spill in Washington waters would likely reach our shores in hours or minutes instead of days. During the past 30 years, Washington has experienced major spills and related incidents including refinery explosions, liquid fuel pipeline ruptures, oil tanker groundings, fuel transfer mishaps and spills caused when commercial vessels sink or collide.

    We emphasize contingency planning and cooperation with our State, Tribal, and Federal partners to minimize injury to fish and wildlife,in the event of an oil or hazardous material spill. Since the resources necessary to respond to spills are limited and vary among the response agencies, it is more important than ever to establish and strengthen cooperative relationships. While prevention is our top priority, we also repond to oil spills, taking a leading role in wildlife protection during spill response activities.

    Oil spills typically harm wildlife in these ways:

    • Oil can coat an animal's fur or feathers, leading to hypothermia and/or a loss of buoyancy in water;
    • Wildlife can be poisoned by ingesting oil directly, eating oiled prey,or inhaling toxic vapors;
    • Oiled animals can transfer oil to nesting material or eggs, which can be lethal to young;
    • Fish, turtles and other aquatic species can be covered in oil and killed;
    • Oil remnants left in the environment can have long-term effects on the food web, ecosystem functions, and habitat suitability for wildlife.
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