Oil tankers could need tug escorts on Columbia River

Tethered tug escorts could provide added protection for oil tankers on the Columbia River – the largest river in the Pacific Northwest of North America – if tanker traffic increased as a result of newly constructed marine terminals, according to a study commissioned by the Washington Legislature and published recently by the Department of Ecology (DoE).

The DoE said that the five proposed bulk terminals could create up to 1,379 additional one-way trips, mostly by tankers. The probability of a major oil spill on the Columbia River was accepted as low, but the consequences would be drastic for both Washington and Oregon. Based on 2006 figures, a large spill could cost Washington state $10.8bn and more than 165,000 jobs, the research claimed.

About 180 tank vessels transit the Columbia River annually to deliver refined petroleum products. There are currently no shipments of crude oil on the Columbia River by tank vessels.

Most of the five proposed terminal projects are in Washington state, including a large oil-by-rail terminal at the port of Vancouver that could receive up to 360,000 barrels of oil and send out one ship per day to West Coast refineries. A state panel last month recommended that Governor Jay Inslee reject the permit. The governor will have 60 days from when the panel sends him their final report.

The last major oil spill on the Columbia River was in March 1984, when SS Mobil Oil grounded on Warrior Rock near St Helens, spilling 200,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil.