The issues and results of modeling major crude oil spill scenarios in outer coast and sound locations in the state of Washington, USA, to determine relative costs and impacts are explored. Oil spill trajectory and fate and effects modeling were coupled with modeling of response operation strategies (conventional mechanical containment and recovery operations; dispersant application with concurrent mechanical containment and recovery; and in-situ burning with concurrent mechanical containment and recovery) to estimate oil spill response costs and socioeconomic and environmental impacts. The complex issues in modeling the impact of response capability and timing of initial response operations were also examined, comparing the US Coast Guard (USCG) federal response capability standards, proposed Washington State standards, and potential theoretical higher response capability standards.

Results of initial modeling showed little difference in costs and impacts between on-water response options and capability levels, with the exception of being significantly lower than the “no response” option, in which only protective shoreline response, but no on-water removal, were employed. The extremely high level of theoretical oil recovery (50 to 70%) that occurred in the modeling was adjusted in a second analysis to account for increasing inefficiencies in recovery capability with time, demonstrating that oil recovery under Washington State's earlier and more aggressive response standard was three times as high as under the federal response standard. Greater differences in costs and impacts were then realized. Increasing on-water oil removal through more efficient oil slick surveillance, training in strategic response, and more timely response can all contribute to reducing spill impacts and costs.

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