OLYMPIA –As early as next year, companies transporting oil into or through Washington could be required to improve planning for accidents under new regulations being developed by the Washington Department of Ecology. They are beginning the rulemaking process to propose a new rule, “Chapter 173-186 WAC, Oil Spill Contingency Plan – Railroad.”


The rulemaking will:

  • Describe the purpose and use of the contingency plans for rail.
  • Describe the applicability and authorities of the rule, and timing for compliance.
  • Include definitions for terms used in the rule.
  • Define authority and process for contingency plan submittal and review.
  • Establish a process for plan updates and notification of significant changes.
  • Develop a signature authority for binding plan holders to the use of their plans.
  • Establish contingency plan content requirements.
  • Describe the required elements of the contingency plan field document.
  • Establish notification requirements and call out procedures.
  • Define training and personnel resources to fill roles in oil spill management teams.
  • Identify resources at risk from rail spills.
  • Establish equipment planning standards for responding to railroad oil spills.
  • Establish Best Achievable Protection planning requirements for railroads.
  • Establish a drill program and drill evaluation criteria for railroad plan holders.
  • Establish recordkeeping, noncompliance, and compliance information.
  • Address other issues to ensure consistency and clarity is maintained throughout the rule.


Increased crude by rail transport has changed the risk picture for oil spills in Washington State.  During the 2015 legislative session, RCW 88.46.010 and RCW 90.56.010 were amended to include railroads (not owned by the state) that transport bulk oil as cargo in the definition of “facility”, and RCW 90.56.210 was amended to expand Ecology’s authority to require state contingency plans for rail.  Ecology was directed to develop rules establishing contingency planning requirements for railroads transporting oil in bulk.  Contingency plans for railroads will ensure that first responders are aware of the locations of oil transport, oil response equipment, and are trained to respond in a rapid, aggressive, and well-coordinated manner.


“These rules will help ensure public safety and environmental protection,” said Dale Jensen, Ecology’s Spills program manager. “Emergency responders will have more information, better resources, and training to respond to incidents in a rapid, aggressive, and well-coordinated manner.”


One rule would establish requirements for facilities receiving crude oil to provide weekly advance notice to Ecology on the movement of crude oil, and for pipelines to provide biannual notice to Ecology. The rule will also identify the manner and types of information Ecology will disclose to emergency responders, tribal and local governments, and the public.


The other rule lays out requirements for how railroads transporting oil in bulk position spill response equipment, sets standards for spill response staffing, training and operations, and establishes a spill response drill program with evaluation standards.  


Ecology will be working with the public, local governments, tribal governments and other stakeholders throughout the rulemaking process. Multiple workshops will provide an opportunity for stakeholders to submit written comments on any preliminary rule language before the formal rule is issued.


More information about how Ecology is implementing the 2015 Oil Transportation Safety Act is available on its oil movement webpages, including frequently asked questions and anticipated timelines. To stay informed about the rulemaking process and opportunities for public input, please sign up for email updates.


More information is available on their rulemaking website at: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/spills/rules/1514ov.html.