Crews drill for oil spill response on Puget Sound

BLAKE ISLAND, Wash. – Puget Sound is the sparkling gem of the Pacific Northwest and also a busy highway of industry and commerce.

Ferries, tugboats, cargo ships – all of these present a possible threat of oil spilling into the water, threatening already endangered species in our region.

That’s why dozens of highly trained crew members practiced their skills during a mock oil spill near Blake Island on Tuesday.

Crews from the Navy, Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers participated in the drill.

“I think it’s been a really outstanding track record in the Northwest that we really haven’t had anything major here,” said Coast Guard Lt. Patrick Marshall.

In April, a tugboat hauling 34,000 gallons of diesel was intentionally grounded after it started taking on water, crews didn’t find any spilled fuel.

In February, a tug and barge collided in the Duwamish River. About 25 gallons of diesel spilled but more than 1,300 gallons of fuel were recovered. It’s an event that has crews paying close attention to detail during their drill.

“Training events like this it’s a great opportunity to rehearse in the event there is something, we’re prepared to respond,” said Col. John Buck of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Tuesday’s drill was supposed to test interagency cooperation and bring hands-on experience with equipment that could keep a spill from spreading.

“It’s an environmentally sensitive area, a lot of endangered species here,” said Buck.

An oil boom was launched from barge and more than a dozen crew members got their hands dirty or observed from other boats during the exercise.

Working in open water can be dangerous and difficult, which makes training exercises essential to help crews identify what procedures are working and where they could improve.

“It’s important that we rehearsed, we know how to interact with each other and that we can effectively and smoothly respond to any event that occurs,” Buck said.

The Navy also brought in its oil skimmer device to round out the exercise.

Organizers believe training exercises could help minimize pollution during an actual spill, potentially saving environment and wildlife.

“Time is absolutely critical when we’re responding,” said Marshall. “The Pacific Northwest is very beautiful and it’s in our interest to protect it.”

A similar exercise happened near Bremerton last year.