Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pre-booming at Conoco-Phillips

A couple of days ago, my friend Mike and I paddled from Sandy Point to Semiahmoo Spit, along Georgia Strait, in the Salish Sea. Soon after we launched, the 273 meter long Polar Resolution oil tanker came into view, escorted by two tugs. Suddenly we felt small, floating nearby in our brightly colored fiberglass sea kayaks. Minutes after docking, an aluminum skiff whipped around from behind the tanker, towing a bright orange boom. The skiff, which you can see near the stern of the tanker in this photo, efficiently circled the tanker, surrounding the tanker with the boom. We were very pleased to see this. Why?

Washington State law requires that all vessels delivering oil at Washington’s 18 major oil refineries must deploy containment boom before starting oil transfers of over 500 gallons per minute over water, when it is safe and effective to do so. We call this procedure pre-booming, and it is required for crude oil, diesel, biodiesel, and heavy fuel oils. Pre-booming is not effective for highly volatile products, such as gasoline and aviation fuels, so it’s not required for these.

What is good about pre-booming? It can prevent or reduce damage from oil spills, speed up clean up, and reduce cleanup costs. Pre-booming is really important because high rate oil transfers present a high risk of an oil spill, and there are LOTS of transfers happening right here, in Whatcom and Skagit counties. How many?

At Cherry Point, Conoco-Phillips reported 699 oil transfers in 2010. This included 400 tanker visits, the rest were barge loadings. BP had 496 oil transfers, including 324 tanker visits. At March Point, the Tesoro refinery had 214 oil transfers, and the Shell Refinery had 262. That’s a lot of transfers. And by Ecology’s estimate, 41 million gallons of oil are delivered over Washington waters each day, and 15.3 billion gallons are transferred over state waters every year. Phew! That’s enough numbers for now.

Who checks booming? We do, and so do five Department of Ecology inspectors. Thank-you, Conoco Phillips, for taking these steps to protect our water. Let us know if you’d like to join us on a kayak patrol. Thanks for reading.

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