Around 55 gallons of oil spilled from a vessel moving through the Ship Canal Labor Day weekend, either late Sunday night or early Monday. The bulk of the spill, which is most likely fuel oil, is currently fouling the water at the Ballard Mill Marina, and some oil has escaped containment efforts and is moving towards the Ballard Locks. Residents of the marina were woken up by the strong smell of diesel and reported the spill to the Coast Guard.

The Ship Canal has a high incidence of oil sheens and oil spills, according to aerial surveys done by the Department of Ecology’s Eyes over Puget Sound program. But oil doesn’t stay in the canal – any spill must be contained immediately to keep it from spreading. We took these photos west of the original spill, where escaped oil is drifting through Salmon Bay. For most spills, the best-case recovery rate is 25%, and often it’s below 10%, leaving the bulk of the oil still in the water.

This incident is a reminder of how important it is to report spills as soon as they are detected, so resources can be deployed as soon as possible. The Coast Guard has two lines, one state: 1-800-424-8802 and one federal: 1-800-OILS911. Best practice is to call both. Our pollution hotline (for non-emergency, business hours only events) is 1-800-42PUGET, and you can also use the pollution reporting form on our website.

Any amount of oil is harmful to the marine ecosystem, and the fumes are dangerous to breathe. Even smaller spills have long-lasting effects. There are thousands of chemical compounds in oil, and toxins inevitably remain in the water every time there is a spill. The NOAA Mussel Watch program found high levels of petroleum-based compounds in their samples, indicating that we need to work harder at keeping these chemicals out of the Sound.

KING 5 has some great coverage of the spill, but we do take issue with their last line. There’s no way to quantify the damage at this point, but it is certainly occurring.

Oil moving west through Salmon Bay.


Oil in Salmon Bay.