Oil owners will be held financially liable for oil spills under newly passed bill

By Juan Morfin

WNPA News Service

The financial responsibility for an oil spill will fall on those who own the facilities and vessels that produce and transport oil, under HB 1691.

The bill was passed by the Senate Thursday, March 3. It passed in the House last month. It will now be passed to the governor’s office for approval.

“The goal is to minimize the permanent long-standing damage that can happen when a catastrophic spill happens,” said Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-Kent, the primary sponsor of this bill.

The new law requires the owners or operators of oil vessels and facilities to demonstrate their financial ability to pay for its oil damages and to obtain a certificate of financial responsibility (COFR) from the Department of Ecology (Ecology).

This COFR will be used to determine whether the party responsible for a vessel or facility is liable for damages caused by their oil spill. The COFR itself must be renewed every two years.

The holder of a COFR must:

• notify Ecology of a spill in Washington waters.

• notify Ecology of an oil spill in another jurisdiction’s waters if the COFR holder may be liable and the spill may incur damages that exceed 15 percent of the resources reflected in their COFR.

To demonstrate financial responsibility to Ecology, oil facilities need to show they can compensate federally recognized Indian tribes in addition to the states, counties and cities in a worst-case oil spill.

The COFR will act in the same way car insurance does for automobile drivers.

“I know by law we’re required to have car insurance if we choose to drive on our roads and streets. So, we want the same in this case,” Gregerson said in a public hearing for the bill.