SEATTLE - From SkyKING Monday morning, we observed oil spill response boats cruising off West Seattle. There was no oil spill here, but it was a drill conducted specifically to see how Washington's remaining oil spill responders could handle a spill with so many of their colleagues out of town.
Additional surprise drills were conducted in Port Angeles, and Neah Bay, along with ground-based drills at refineries in Tacoma, Anacortes and Bellingham.
With more than 50 local spill responders deployed to the Gulf of Mexico, along with miles of containment boom and literally all of the state's supply of controversial oil dispersant, if a spill were to happen, here, now, today, could those left behind contain the mess?
The tests involved 16 boats and some 41 people between from about 8 a.m. to 2 pm. Monday. The state says the initial assessment finds that there is adequate coverage to handle a spill here, but more evaluation of the exercise will be carried out over the next several days.
"We need to make sure we have a core level of spill response readiness," says Curt Hart, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Ecology, the agency that oversees the state's spill response.
Washington claims some of the toughest oil spill regulations in the nation, with an emphasis on prevention. But the state is concerned.
"We're concerned because the MSRC took about 26 of their most experienced responders and sent them to the Gulf," said Hart.
MSRC stands for Marine Spill Response Corporation, a non-profit company that is on constant standby. MSRC had the state's approval to transfer those people, but like a fire department, are there enough trucks and firefighters available to do the job with so many fighting the battle so far away.
"Puget Sound is an estuary that's like the nursery for all the sea life, " said Bob Beckman, the Executive Director for Puget Soundkeeper Alliance.
His organization patrols for spills and polluters in local waters, and is affiliated with similar groups around the country, including several on the Gulf Coast. But Beckman says the waters of Western Washington need even more protection.
"Yeah, I want to see people step it up. I would like to see more practices and more realistic worse case scenarios," he said.