New Report Details Tanker Risk In Puget Sound

Apr 30, 2012

Twelve years ago, BP built a second dock at its Cherry Point refinery north of Bellingham, WA. But they didn’t do an assessment of what that added dock capacity would mean for tanker traffic in Washington waters. Now the Army Corps of Engineers has released a long-awaited study that does just that. Ashley Ahearn reports.

The study found that when BP built the second dock at Cherry Point it lowered the risk of a spill. Another dock meant tankers spent less time waiting near the terminal – where they’re more vulnerable to collision – and more time tied up safely. Spill risk was also reduced by using escort tugs, requiring double-hulled vessels and implementing one-way zones. But here’s the catch: the study found that if traffic increases things look different.

Rene van Dorp is one of the authors of the study. He’s a professor of engineering at George Washington University.

van Dorp: “We have to recognize that if we increase traffic that it is possible that even with the two docks risk could increase above the level that was experienced when only one dock was there.”

So, two docks are better than one – until there are more ships in the water. Van Dorp says the San Juan Islands is the hot spot for spill risk. Tankers coming and going to the BP terminal facility travel the waters of Haro and Rosario straits in North Puget Sound.

Pratt: "And that’s basically the waterways surrounding San Juan County."

Lovel Pratt is a member of the San Juan County Council.

Pratt: “So clearly my constituents are very concerned about the potential risk of a major oil spill, being one of our biggest threats to both our economy and our environment, which are intertwined."

With the down economy tanker traffic to and from the BP terminal has actually decreased in the past few years. But tanker traffic overall stands to increase if more Alberta oil is exported via Canada’s west coast.

There is also a proposal to build a new terminal near BP’s Cherry Point facility to export coal to Asian markets. At full capacity, that could mean more than 900 additional ships per year added to the traffic mix in Puget Sound.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network