ANACORTES — A string of yellow floats connected two boats in Fidalgo Bay as those on board Thursday afternoon practiced deploying oil containment booms.
The activity was a once-a-year collaborative training with staff from both Anacortes refineries, as well as officials from the Marine Spill Response Corporation, or MSRC, Tesoro Anacortes Refinery spokesman Matt Gill said.
The boats were visible from the Cap Sante Lookout. The Tesoro crews on board, clad in red safety suits, changed the shape of the boom in about 20 minutes from a soft “u” to a sharp “v” on the surface of the water.
A larger MSRC vessel stood by unattached to the boom.
In the case of an actual oil spill, the unattached boat could position itself at the open end of the triangle and use another type of spill response equipment to pull the oil from the water, said Craig Hyder, regional manager for contingency planning and emergency response for Tesoro.
Refinery officials said preventative measures and regular practice are important to ensure protection of the environment and compliance with the law.
“Protecting people and the environment is the most important thing,” Shell Puget Sound Refinery spokesman Cory Ertel said. “Shell has a robust emergency response protocol.”
Both the Shell and Tesoro refineries practice spill response throughout the year.
Working together helps the neighboring refineries understand their respective skills and knowledge, Ertel said. That’s especially important to ensure the effectiveness of their mutual aid agreement.
The MSRC is a national nonprofit oil spill removal organization certified by the Coast Guard.
The organization has an office in Anacortes with boats stationed at Cap Sante Marina, which is about one mile from both the Shell and Tesoro refinery wharves, Hyder said.
Having the MSRC stationed so close, where its crews can respond to refinery incidents within 15 minutes, helps fulfill state and federal laws requiring refineries to have access to a certain amount of equipment, Gill said.
The type and quantity of equipment needed close by is based on what regulatory agencies call “worst case discharge” scenarios.
For Tesoro, the worst-case scenario, for example, would be if a tanker at or on the way to the refinery wharf was struck by another ship and spilled all the oil it was carrying, refinery officials said. While not impossible, that scenario is unlikely.
The Tesoro refinery has operated in Anacortes for 60 years, Gill said. It was originally built by Shell and was purchased by Tesoro in the 1990s.
In the years Tesoro has run the refinery, the largest oil spill was about 2 gallons in 2008, according to the refinery’s facility spill history. The smallest on record was less than 1 ounce in 1999.
“If a drop of oil hits the water, we report it,” Hyder said.
Between November 1999 and March 2014, the refinery has reported 10 spills.