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New law enhances response

On the one-year anniversary of the BP well rupture that led to a multimillion-gallon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill into law Wednesday to enhance the spill response program in Washington.

The new law, which relies on the Ecology Department to make new rules, should make it easier for crews to respond to oil spills in challenging conditions and help ensure volunteers and fishermen are on hand to help, actions supporters said would fill gaps in Washington’s response system that local spills and the BP disaster brought to light.

Ecology Department spokesman Curt Hart said Washington needs to take the threat of oil spills seriously because 15 billion to 20 billion gallons of oil are transported over state waters each year as cargo in tankers and as fuel.

The new law will authorize the department to add to the rules that tanker companies have to follow and to the equipment they have to pay for so that they’re ready to respond to spills.

In general, industry in the state has a good safety record, Hart said, and Washington hasn’t experienced a major spill since 2004, when a ConocoPhillips tanker spilled at least 1,000 gallons of oil in Dalco Passage near Commencement Bay.

In many of the state’s water bodies, such as Puget Sound and the Columbia River, spills can reach the shore much more quickly than they can in the Gulf of Mexico, so the new requirements will be designed to facilitate fast reaction times.

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