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Incident at Beaver Dock narrowly avoids oil spill into Columbia

Responders prevented 25,000 of diesel from pouring into the river

A vessel that strayed from its course while traveling upriver collided with the Beaver Dock near Clatskanie, nearly resulting in the spill of thousands of gallons of oil into the Columbia River.

The Port of Columbia County released a statement in response to the event:

"The morning of Nov. 12, a vessel...was underway, traveling upriver. The vessel navigated off course and collided with the Beaver Dock causing damage to the downriver approach and infrastructure. At this time there are no known injuries or spills. The site has been secured with booming out of precaution.

"The Port worked in close collaboration with Port Westward dock users, who responded immediately, to make all notifications per the facility Incident Response Plan. U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies have been onsite. We are currently working with an engineer to assess the extent of the damage and necessary repairs and hope to have the dock back in operation as soon as possible."

Input from the DEQ

"There is a pipe that goes from Columbia Pacific Bio Refinery (CPBR) out along that dock," said Lauren Wirtis, the Communications Manager for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. "It got pretty significantly damaged but fortunately did not break, and in DEQ's and U.S. Coast Guard's time monitoring the incident, we haven't seen any oil on the water, which is really great news," Wirtis said.

The pipe is connected to a tank that holds 25,000 gallons of renewable diesel, according to Wirtis. The pipe transfers oil from the refinery to ships on the dock. Because the valve that connects the tank to the pipe was already closed, Wirtis said that the maximum amount of oil that could have spilled was 9,450 gallons.

"Some of the valves were already closed, so it wouldn't have been possible for more than 9,450 [gallons] to spill," Wirtis said. "And then CPBR kept closing the valves to reduce the potential to spill."

The 9,450 gallons refers to the amount that was in the pipe at the time of the collision. In order to minimize the threat of oil leaking from the pipe, CPBR sent out consultants with a "spud barge" to "pull the remaining oil out of the pipe," according to Wirtis.

Wirtis said that CPBR acted quickly to take steps to mitigate the risk of a spill. While they acted rapidly in the aftermath of the event, there was no ability to prevent the tugboat from actually hitting the dock. If the pipe had broken, it would have resulted in "thousands of gallons of oil in the river."

Preparing for emergencies

Wirtis said that CPBR participates in "spill drills" in collaboration with the DEQ to best implement spill response plans. The drills allow participants to practice what to do in the event of an emergency.

"There are a lot of really sensitive environmental areas on the Columbia River, and the water moves really fast. So, that means oil travels really quickly, and can impact all of these sensitive environmental and cultural resources," Wirtis said. "So, it can, very quickly, have a really large impact."

Wirtis said that events like this are why they do the spill response drills. She said that everyone "played their role really well" in response to the incident.

"When things happen, or get really close to happening, we're able to respond in a timely manner to minimize the impact on the environment. That worked really well. We're also really fortunate with what happened with the pipe," Wirtis said.

This article was originally published in The Chief of St. Helens, Ore.


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