Two significant west coast spill incidents, the barge Nestucca spill in B.C. in 1988 and the tanker Exxon Valdez spill of 1989 catalyzed the formal creation of the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force, a union of Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. Hawaii joined 12 years later and for the past 25 years the Task Force member organizations have collaborated on numerous projects and policy initiatives that have significantly influenced how the west coast prevents, prepares for and responds to oil spills. This paper will: 1) Provide an overview of how the Task Force functions and how it fosters collaboration between industry, agencies, and other stakeholders in the region; 2) Highlight key projects and accomplishments from the past two decades, including Transboundary coordination, vessel traffic risk studies, mutual aid agreements, and federal regulatory oversight; and how these projects were initiated and carried out; 3) Offer examples of how the Task Force is looking at challenges ahead, such as the shifting landscape of energy transportation and emerging fuels in the region, and what this means for spill prevention and response.

Two major spills marked the turning point: the first was in December 1988 and involved the tank barge Nestucca, a spill which impacted the coasts of Washington and British Columbia. The second, in March 1989, was the catastrophic spill of the tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska's Prince William Sound. These two events highlighted in a dramatic way the vulnerability of the West Coast states and British Columbia to spill risks from coastal marine traffic. Awareness arose of the importance of inter-state and cross-border coordination and cooperation, and the need for firm commitments to protect the unique marine resources of the region.

Thus the Pacific States/B.C. Oil Spill Task Force (Task Force) was created, the result of a memorandum signed by the governors of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California and the premier of British Columbia in 1989. The following year the Task Force produced a report (Task Force 1990) which included 46 joint recommendations for spill prevention and response, most of which have been since incorporated into national, state or provincial legislation. On a national level, the report helped lead to the 1990 US Federal Oil Pollution Act as well as the 1993 Canadian Shipping Act Amendments.

In 2001, Hawaii joined the Task Force, further broadening our regional scope. Evolving trends in energy development are also impacting our field of concern; whereas marine spills prompted the creation of the Task Force, we now consider developing strategies to prevent oil spills from pipelines, onshore facilities, vehicles, and railroads also part of our remit.

Here's what we accomplished in 2012–2013:

  1. Released a new video on bunkering operations entitled Bunkering Best Practices

  2. Worked with British Columbia to begin developing a comprehensive oil spill program for the province

  3. Collected and reported oil spill data in the West Coast states using a shared data dictionary to ensure standardized entries

  4. Launched a project to map the shifting flow of energy transportation via rail, pipeline and vessels across the Pacific Northwest

  5. Tracked tsunami debris reports and outreach efforts along coastal communities across the West Coast

  6. Promoted derelict vessel policies and initiatives

  7. Shared information on emerging technologies for oil spill prevention and response

  8. Supported federal legislation to increase limits of liability for facilities and vessels

Long term vision statement: No Spilled Oil

Mission Statement: The mission of the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force is to strengthen state and provincial capabilities to prevent, prepare for and respond to oil spills.

Ongoing Goals:

  1. Prevent spills that impact natural resources in our member jurisdictions, both large spills with significant impacts and chronic small spills with cumulative impacts;

  2. Facilitate communication among member agencies in order to promote policy uniformity and consistency, improve prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery capabilities, and maximize efficiency of effort by sharing ideas and products;

  3. Clarify the roles and responsibilities of state and provincial agencies with regard to federal agencies in order to reduce regulatory gaps and overlaps while avoiding potential conflicts;

  4. Advocate in national and international arenas for issues of common concern, building respect through credibility, clarity of purpose and collaboration;

  5. Serve as a catalyst for improvements by working cooperatively with federal agencies, other states and provinces, industry, response contractors, public interest groups and concerned citizens to create opportunities for policy and technology breakthroughs;

  6. Educate the public and stakeholders on the impacts of oil spills and issues relating to spill prevention, preparedness, response and restoration;

  7. Identify emerging trends in oil transportation, production and storage in order to assist member agencies with their strategic planning; and

  8. Serve as a model of proactive regional cooperation and coordination.


  1. Spill Prevention: To prevent oil spills from a variety of sources, including vessels, pipelines, facilities, vehicles and railroads.

  2. Spill Preparedness and Response: To enhance oil spill preparedness and response capabilities throughout our region.

  3. Communications: To continuously improve communications within the Task Force as well as with key stakeholders and the general public and to maintain a high level of public and stakeholder involvement in Task Force activities.

Regional Oil Spill Database

The Task Force's regional oil spill database, which was launched in 2003, is a unique and valuable resource that enables us to track trends in spills and related causal factors. Using a standardized data dictionary to ensure uniform entries, we collect data on all spills of a barrel (42 gallons) or larger. It remains an ongoing challenge to refine the information entered to a level of specificity that supports effective analysis while also taking into account the varied collection capabilities of member agencies.

The Task Force oil spill database is created and maintained for informational purposes only. The data it contains reflects the respective agencies' best information at the time it was entered in the database. This means that recorded quantities may be under-reported. Our data set includes oil spill information collected in Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii and Alaska. British Columbia does not contribute oil spill data at this time.

In 2012, there were 1,134 spills representing 758,120 gallons spilled of both crude and non- crude products. Our complete oil spill data with analysis from 2012 plus the trend data for 2002 – 2012 is available at

West Coast Energy Transportation Project

Across Washington, Oregon and British Columbia, the origin and sources of energy passing through the region is changing. Rail and pipeline transport of oil sands products and crude from Alberta and North Dakota is dramatically increasing, while the volume of Alaska North Slope crude arriving via vessels is declining. In addition, new processing facilities, refineries and terminals are being built along transportation routes to further expand commercial operations in the region. The growing export of coal to Asian markets through west coast terminals is also adding to the increased movement of materials across the region.

The shifting landscape of energy transport affects all of the Task Force's work, including spill prevention, preparedness response, and environmental restoration activities. While data is currently available from a variety of credible sources, there is not a single resource where member agencies or interested parties can obtain summary-level information on the current trends of fuel transport via rail, pipeline and vessel across the west coast states.

In the first phase of this project, the Task Force is mapping the current state of energy transportation routes and facilities (terminals, refineries and transfer operations) across WA, OR and B.C through which the majority of Alberta and North Dakota shipments are being transported. This map will allow spill prevention and response planners to identify:

  • Sensitive resources and habitats along transportation routes

  • Placement of spill response equipment

  • Areas with potential risk for rail, pipeline, facility and vessel spills

  • Regional distribution of facilities and terminals both current and proposed

As part of Phase 2 of this project, the Task Force will track and develop a future state report based on projected increases in volume and associated transport in the region.

The West Coast Offshore Vessel Traffic Risk Management Project

In an effort to reduce the risk of collisions or drift groundings, the Task Force collaborated with US Coast Guard Pacific Area partnered in the West Coast Offshore Vessel Traffic Risk Management (WCOVTRM) Project, carried out between 1999 and 2002. The project focused on vessels traveling 3 to 200 nautical miles off the West Coast between Cook Inlet Alaska and San Diego California. The focus was on tank, cargo/passenger and fishing vessels of 300 gross tons or larger, as well as tank barges.

For the project, a workgroup collected and reviewed a wide variety of data on vessel traffic patterns, traffic volume, existing management measures, weather data and ship drift patterns, historic casualty rates by vessel type, the availability of assist vessels, the environmental sensitivity of the coastlines, socio-economic consequences of a spill and projections of relevant future initiatives. The workgroup also used drift and tug data to model potential tug response times under both average and severe weather conditions.

Several recommendations of the WCOVTRM Project have been implemented over the past 10 years, including:

  • Harbor Safety Committees have been established across the West Coast states. Harbor Safety Committees work with U.S. Coast Guard Sector Commanders to ensure 24/7 access to tug company dispatchers for vessel rescue purposes.

  • The Dutch Harbor model emergency towing packages were adopted for vessels less than 50,000 GT at the entrance to the Columbia River.

  • A five-year review of the WCOVTRM Project was carried out in 2007 to evaluate implementation of the offshore transit recommendations.

  • Between October 2010 and October 2011, the U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area monitored vessel traffic along the West Coast to determine whether they were observing the voluntary offshore transit distances

In 2013–2014, the Task Force will undertake another review of the WCOVRTM Project to monitor the progress of the report's recommendations to-date and review the changes in offshore transit that have taken place as a result of their implementation.

The WCOVTRM report and 5-year review summary is available at:

Harbor Safety Committees

In 2005, the US Coast Guard Pacific Area recommended that the West Coast Harbor Safety Committees (HSC) develop standards of care for their ports in conformance with current best industry practices. There are eight HSCs located across the west coast:Hawaii Ocean Safety Team

  1. Humboldt Bay Harbor Safety Committee

  2. Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Safety Committee

  3. Lower Columbia Region Harbor Safety Committee

  4. Port Hueneme Harbor Safety Committee

  5. Puget Sound Harbor Safety Committee

  6. San Diego Harbor Safety Committee

  7. San Francisco Bay Region Harbor Safety Committee

Each HSC is comprised of representatives from the surrounding maritime community who annually update their harbor safety plan. These plans include Best Maritime Practices and other tools to advance the safe navigation of all vessels transiting their harbors. (See Harbor Safety page on the Task Force website for further information:

The Task Force continues to monitor and encourage the HCSs to make progress in adopting these practices. Enhancing navigational safety is expected to reduce vessel casualties and resultant oil spills. The Task Force encourages the Committees to maintain 24/7 contact information for commercial towing company dispatchers. The Task Force also maintains a webpage on the Task Force website for the HCSs, and participates in the annual Harbor Safety Summits.

Best Practices Bunkering Video

In February 2013, the Task Force released a new video on best practices for bunkering operations (the transfer of fuel to a vessel). Entitled Bunkering Best Practices: Protecting People and the Environment, the 14-minute training video is a collaboration between members of the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force, California's Office of Spill Prevention and Response and Maritime Training Services in Seattle. The video can be viewed online, downloaded, or purchased on DVD. Visit the Task Force website to download video at no charge (

The Pacific Oil Spill Prevention Education Team

The Pacific Oil Spill Prevention Education Team (POSPET) evolved from the simple premise that small oil spills can add up to cause significant environmental and economic harm, and that they are a regional problem that can be remedied more effectively through collaborative projects drawing from existing talent and resources. For over a decade, POSPET has served as a forum for exchanging information and outreach ideas about prevention of oil spills and other boater best management practices while providing boat and marina operators with consistent and accurate pollution prevention messages. POSPET members include representatives from state and federal agencies, industry associations, and nonprofit groups from Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California.

The POSPET team members track the number of certified “Clean Marinas” and “Clean Harbors” within their jurisdictions, where these programs exist. The table below (Table 1) lists the current number of facilities certified in Alaska, British Columbia, California, Oregon and Washington. These certification programs recognize marinas and harbors that educate boaters on spill and pollution prevention practices. Each facility must renew its certification every 2–5 year.

Another successful achievement of the POSPET team is the Spills Aren't Slick campaign, which has done much to bring the impact of even small releases of oil on the environment.

The team created a set of Spills Aren't Slick signs and decals which are widely distributed by POSPET members. These have been posted at boat ramps and marinas, among other highly visible locations.

As part of the Spills Aren't Slick campaign, POSPET publicizes 1-800-OILS-911, a toll-free number for the general public to report oil spills. It's an easy number to remember and can be used anywhere on the West Coast from British Columbia to California. When a boater calls this number it is automatically routed to the emergency office of the relevant jurisdiction. (Note: at present, Hawaii and Alaska are not participating in the program).

Prevention Topics of Concern

Each year the Coordinating Committee monitors and shares information on selected spill prevention topics of concern. Our spill prevention topics of concern for 2012–2013 included:

  • Oil spill risks from sunken and derelict vessels

  • Waste oil dumping by deep draft commercial ships

  • Vessel and Facility Oil Transfer regulations

  • Pipeline spills and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation pipeline leak detection efforts

  • Spills from trucks and railroads

  • Salvage capabilities and regulations (refers to emergency stabilization, firefighting, and lightering)

  • Tug escort requirements

  • Towing vessel inspection regulations

  • Federal preemption issues Vessel traffic trends and risk assessments or studies

  • Cruise ship operations with regard to spills and other water pollution impacts

  • National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System for vessel wastewater discharges

  • Liquefied Natural Gas shipping and terminal operations

  • Green Ports

  • Ballast water regulations preventing spread of invasive species.

Symposium on Land Based Spill Preparedness and Response

In March 2013, Task Force representatives were among the 130 organizations which attended the Symposium on Land Based Spill Preparedness and Response, held in Vancouver, B.C. ( The conference was organized by the B.C. Ministry of Environment. The goals of the event were to:

  • Determine world leading spill preparedness and response practices relevant for B.C.

  • Identify communication, coordination and collaboration opportunities to achieve world class practices

  • Determine key actions to support the development of a state of the art spill program in B.C.

The Task Force participation included working with organizers to develop the symposium program and offering perspectives on governance, financing, stakeholder involvement and industry collaboration from the vantage point of member states. The Task Force continues to support B.C.'s efforts as it moves forward with developing a comprehensive oil spill prevention and response program.

U.S./Canada Tranbounary Planning

In 2008, the Task Force launched a multi-year initiative to review U.S. and Canadian Transboundary Spill Planning and Response capabilities in place at that time. The project focused on the marine borders between Alaska and British Columbia (CANUSDIX), and between British Columbia and Washington (CANUSPAC). The goal of the project was two-fold:

  1. Review and document existing U.S./Canadian Transboundary oil spill response plans and capabilities for the CANUSDIX and CANUSPAC borders. Attention was paid to identifying existing authorities and response management systems in place.

  2. Based on the review, develop recommendation on how to improve both joint response and planning efforts across the boarders, as well as planning and capacity building within each jurisdiction.

A workgroup consisting of 27 members (representing Canadian and US federal and state agencies, industry, tribes, associations and community organizations) was established at the onset of the project. The workgroup subsequently created subcommittees to focuse on five key areas: command, planning operations, logistics and finance. Membership of the charter committees reflected subject matter experts from both sides of the borders. The final result of this effort was a report published in 2011 entitled: Planning and Response Capabilities for a Marine Oil Spill on the U.S./Canadian Transboundary Areas of the Pacific Coast. (Available on the Task Force website.) The report listed 111 recommendations directed at 14 agencies, organizations, or target constituencies on both sides of the border. In January of 2012, the U.S./Canada Transboundary Project was presented to a meeting of the Mexico and California (MEXUSPAC) Joint Response Team as a model for analysis of transboundary planning and preparedness.,

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, and the Washington Department of Ecology have been implementing the recommendations within their agencies. Along with the Task Force, they have also been coordinating with federal agencies to promote implementation of these recommendations at the federal level.

The OSTF will conduct a five-year review in 2016 and provide a status report on which recommendations have been implemented, hurdles to implementation, and accomplishments achieved to-date. This review will allow agencies to reprioritize and refocus their efforts on improving coordination during a US/Canadian West Coast transboundary response.

Increasing the U.S. Limits of Liability

Limits of Liability (LOL) dictate the maximum level of penalty a responsible party is required to pay as a result of an oil spill. The LOL established in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, and in 2005, the levels had not been increased to meet inflation. The Task Force petitioned the U.S. Coast Guard to adjust the Limits of Liability for tank vessels, tank barges, nontank vessels, and appropriate facilities by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). (See our website for further documentation.) On January 6, 2010, the U.S. Coast Guard adopted a final rule adjusting Limits of Liability for vessels and deepwater ports.

Still concerned about the limit of liability for offshore and on- land facilities, the Task Force submitted another round of letters of petition in 2012 to the US Coast Guard, U.S. EPA, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management requesting that they initiate rulemaking to adjust the LOL for the facilities that they regulate.

This year, the Obama administration signed the Executive Order 12777 to increase the LOL to reflect CPI. The Task Force will continue to monitor federal rulemaking regarding LOL and will weigh in when future adjustments are needed.

Monitoring Mutual Aid Issues

The Task Force maintains two mutual aid agreements. The first agreement was adopted in 1993 and outlines policies and protocols for the member agencies to share their response equipment and trained staff. In 1996, the Task Force adopted another agreement establishing policies and protocols for release of that equipment for the purpose of mutual aid. This agreement was necessary to allow movement of response equipment “out of state” for mutual aid, even though that equipment was cited in a contingency plan approved by the member agency in that state.

Later, following review of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill of National Significance – when so much response equipment left our region to support the effort in the Gulf of Mexico - the Task Force member agencies agreed update the 1996 policies to address the lessons learned from that event. The final revised Mutual Aid Agreement was adopted by the Task Force Members at our August 2011 Annual Meeting and is available on our website (

A national Equipment Surge workgroup was established in 2012, bringing this issue of mutual aid into the spotlight. The Task Force will continue to track the activities of this workgroup and any national policies that emerge from its efforts.

Oil Spill Research and Development Workgroup

The Task Force coordinates a research and development (R&D) workgroup that meets annually via conference call to share updates on new and emerging oil spill technology and scientific findings. The group consists of scientists and technical experts representing U.S. and Canadian federal and state agencies plus U.S. Coast Guard, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and state entities. The annual conference call offer an opportunity for workgroup members to share progress on their own research on oil spill response and restoration, as well as exchange information on new products, modeling tools and other innovative technologies under development.

In 2012, the R&D workgroup members provided updates on research underway in the areas of:

  • Characteristics of oils sands products

  • Dispersants and their impacts on biota

  • Oil on ice and other arctic oil issues

  • Recovery of submerged oil

  • Use of multi-spectral imaging in oil spills

  • Vessel traffic risk assessments

Topics of concern

Each year the Coordinating Committee monitors and shares information on selected spill preparedness and response topics. Our spill topics for 2012–2013 included:

  • Volunteer planning and management

  • Oil spill drill programs

  • Applied response technologies and regulations

  • Oil Spill research and development

  • Oil Spill Response Organization (OSRO) certifications, mergers, mutual aid and response capabilities

  • Joint Information Center (JIC) planning, training, and guidelines

  • Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) initiatives, issues, and activities

  • Coordination of inter-jurisdictional wildlife care

  • West Coast sea bird and other vulnerable marine populations threatened by oil spills

  • Development of remote sensing capabilities

  • Contingency plan regulations and preparedness/ response issues re: nontank vessels

  • Potential Places of Refuge planning

  • Status of the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund

  • Use of the Integrated Vessel Response Plan for Tank Vessels

  • Lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon Spill

2012 Clean Pacific Conference

The annual Clean Pacific Conference and Exposition, which focuses on all aspects of oil pollution response, took place on May 16–17, 2012 at the Long Beach Convention Center. That year, the Deepwater Horizon event featured prominently, with many in-depth discussions of what lessons can be learned for the West Coast when responding to a spill of that magnitude. Topics featured at the conference included advancing technologies including Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and aerial remote sensing technologies, tools which played a significant role in the cleanup and response efforts of the Deepwater Horizon.

The 2012 Clean Pacific Conference featured:

  • 788 Attendees

  • 56 Trade Show exhibitors

  • 6 Legacy Award recipients

The Clean Pacific conferences have been hosted by the Task Force every 2–3 years since 2007. The next conference will take place in 2015 in British Columbia.

Legacy Awards

The Task Force gives Legacy Awards for projects, accomplishments, or leadership that demonstrates innovation, management commitment, and improvements in oil spill prevention, preparedness, or response resulting in enhanced environmental protection. The Awards are given to industry, non-profit or public agency organizations and individuals, or to team efforts.

2012 Legacy Award Winners:

  • The SE Alaska Petroleum Resource Organization

    • (SEAPRO) In recognition of their dedication to protecting SE Alaska from oil spills

  • Eric Olsson, Washington Sea Grant

    • In recognition of his leadership in spill prevention education

  • Kathy Fletcher, People for Puget Sound

    • In recognition of her outstanding efforts to protect the waters of Puget Sound

  • Captain Daniel LeBlanc, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Columbia River

    • To honor his dedicated leadership of the Davy Crockett response

  • The U.S. Coast Guard SS Montebello Project Team

    • To honor their outstanding leadership of the SS Montebello risk assessment

  • Rusty Nall, The American Marine Corporation and PENCO

    • To honor his outstanding marine casualty and spill response efforts

Task Force Website

The Task Force website ( continues to be expanded and enhanced in various ways, and it serves as a valuable repository for relevant information, including:

  • Task Force Annual Work Plans and Strategic Plans

  • Cooperative Agreements & Resolutions Documents

  • Task Force Comments & Correspondence

  • Project Reports

  • Meeting Notes

  • Annual Reports

  • Incident Response Links

  • Event Calendar

In 2012, we logged more than 9,000 unique visitors, viewing some 18,000 pages, approximately double the traffic of 2011. This year, we have expanded our website to include quarterly updates from the 6 Task Force jurisdictions, weekly news clippings, incident reports and more.

The Task Force reaches out to stakeholders through a variety of on-going communication channels including our Annual Reports, Annual Meetings, and Clean Pacific Conferences. These outreach efforts are aimed at sharing progress on our projects and programs. In addition, the Task Force hosts regular topic-specific roundtables and workshops that bring together stakeholders to address a key topic of interest or concern.

On-going Task Force stakeholder outreach activities include:

  • Maintaining our Partnership with U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area through collaboration on projects of regional interest;

  • On-going outreach to other coastal states and provinces including inviting spills program leads from other agencies to join portions of the Task Force's quarterly Coordinating Committee meetings;

  • Executive Coordinator's participation in America Petroleum Institute's Spill's Advisory Group annual meetings, regional West Coast Joint Assessment Team bi-annual meetings, American Waterways Operators bi-annual meetings;

  • Presentations on Task Force activities and at regional and national conferences, workshops and symposia, when possible; and

  • Bi-weekly oil spill news clippings service that is distributed to a wide range of stakeholders and the interested public

The Task Force was born due to a critical need to address oil pollution that impacted two States, Washington and Oregon. Over the past twenty-five years, each of the West Coast members has developed Oil Spill Response Programs to cover Prevention, Preparedness, and Response. The ability of the Task Force members to meet and discuss issues on a regular basis has been beneficial and has improved each member program. In working with our Federal partners it is of value to be able to speak as a West Coast body, all focused together on solving a specific problem. The Mutual Aid Agreement is but one benefit. If there is a significant oil spill it is always critical that enough equipment and trained responders are immediately available. The US Coast Guard Pacific Area and Task Force Memorandum of Understanding recognizes the long standing close partnership and shared goals between the two parties. Outreach efforts, exercise participation, Research and Development support and the Incident Command System task have greatly aided our preparedness goal. By working with the US Coast Guard the efforts to rewrite ICS position descriptions and train to a common standard has shown value during large National oil spill responses like the BP spill in the Gulf and Hurricane disaster response. Clean Pacific Conference hosting and presentation of Legacy Awards are two examples of the task force community outreach. The annual meetings and on–going dialog with the Coast Guard on regulation change and need for new regulations has helped both to better meet the needs of a changing Oil Spill response issues. New transportation challenges associated with rail carriage of crude oil, Arctic exportation, deep ocean drilling, oil fracking, and Bakken oil will require our joint efforts for the future. The past 25 years has shown us the value of working together to address the challenges of Oil Pollution, but there is still work to be done.

Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force
Final Report of the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force
Available hard copy only – contact Task Force for a copy
Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force
West Coast Offshore Vessel Traffic Risk Management Study
Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force
West Coast Offshore Vessel Traffic Risk Management Study – 5-year Review
Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force
Planning and Response Capabilities for a Marine Oil Spill on the U.S./Canadian Transboundary Areas of the Pacific Coast