March 18, 2010
Polar Tankers to pay $588,000 in 2004 spill case
The Washington State Department of Ecology says that Polar Tankers Inc., a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips Co., has agreed to pay $588,000 to help compensate the public for environmental harm caused by the October 2004 crude oil spill into Puget Sound's Dalco Passage near Tacoma.
The payment would come under a proposed settlement agreement or consent decree filed this week in U.S. District Court, Western Washington Division involving Polar Tankers and the United States, state of Washington, Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and Puyallup Tribe of Indians. A consent decree in federal court makes no finding of guilt or innocence.
The U.S. Attorney General's action was made at the request of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; the Washington state departments of Ecology and Fish & Wildlife; and the Muckleshoot and Puyallup tribal governments.
The coalition of federal, state and tribal governments also filed a related restoration plan and environmental assessment that identifies three potential environmental restoration projects on Vashon and Maury Islands.
The spill caused harm to Puget Sound Chinook salmon and other salmon species, forage fish, shellfish and their habitats, as well as other bird and wildlife species.
The 2004 incident involved the company's oil tanker Polar Texas, which spilled between 1,000 and 7,200 gallons of crude oil during evening hours. The spill went unreported to state and federal authorities. Oil from the tanker spread out on the water throughout the night.
In October 2006 ConocoPhillips paid the Washington State Department of Ecology a $540,000 fine for the spill -- the largest penalty the department ever issued for an oil spill from a vessel to Washington marine waters.
The cleanup exceeded $2.2 million in costs, paid from a federal oil-spill contingency fund. Ecology and other state agencies spent $483,000, which was reimbursed by the federal fund. The U.S. Department of Justice recovered all cleanup costs from Polar Tankers.
"The settlement agreement and the restoration projects being proposed are the final chapter for this tragic spill that damaged Puget Sound and had so many economic, environmental, cultural and emotional ramifications," said Dale Jensen, Spills Program Manager, Washington State Department of Ecology.
Since the 2004 incident, Jensen said, Polar Tankers has "vastly improved" its operations. He noted that in July 2009, that Ecology gave Polar Tankers the department's Exceptional Compliance Program Award for achieving excellence in marine safety and environmental stewardship.