Puget Soundkeeper has worked to address the risks of catastrophic oil spills for many years, with a focus on oil transportation safety, in an effort to protect our waters and marine life by preventing the devastating effects of an oil spill.

Since modelling work in 2015 demonstrated that tug escorts for articulated tug barges and towed oil barges reduced potential accidents by 15% and potential oil loss by 3%, Soundkeeper has pushed for greater tug escort requirements for oil laden vessels crossing the Salish Sea.

In 2019, we helped pass key recommendations in Washington’s State legislature through the “Reducing Threats to Southern Resident Killer Whales by Improving the Safety of Oil Transportation Act” (ESHB 1578). The Act is a portfolio of projects aimed at preventing a catastrophic oil spill in Puget Sound by closing safety gaps related to vessels carrying oil in bulk. In that portfolio, is a new law requiring tug escorts for 5,000-40,000 DWT Tanker vessels who travel through Rosario Strait “and connected waterways east”. Previous to this rulemaking, tug escorts only applied to vessels over 40,000 DWT.

In a major win this September, Puget Soundkeeper finalized work on the Oil Transportation Safety Committee, under the Board of Pilotage Commissioners and alongside partners Friends of the Earth, American Waterway Operators, as well as tug captains, and representatives from the oil industry to draft an interpretive statement to define waterways where tug escort requirements will be law.

In defining “connected waterways east” Soundkeeper worked to expand the definition of Rosario Strait beyond its current Code of Federal Regulations definition in order to include important waterways where tug escort requirements are critical for the safety of our waters and endangered Southern Resident killer whales. This work finalized the interpretation of the Board that “connected waterways east” is defined as all connected channels, waterways, bays and anchorages East of Rosario Strait and north of 48° 30.0’ N Latitude. These waters include but are not limited to Guemes Channel, Bellingham Channel, the channels around Sinclair, Vendovi and Saddlebag islands as well as Bellingham Bay, Samish Bay, Padilla Bay and Fidalgo Bay.

We’re excited to see the definition expand to include these connected waterways and further protect Southern Resident Killer whales through tug escort requirements.

Read more about Puget Soundkeeper’s work on Fossil Fuel Transportation.