Today, due to changes to U.S. law and international regulations, all oil tankers traversing the oceans are double-hulled, unlike the more breech-prone single hull of the Exxon Valdez. This significantly reduces but does not eliminate the risk of spills, as was demonstrated last year when a double-hulled Iranian tanker exploded and leaked fuel oil after crashing into a freighter in the South China Sea.
The volume of oil that tankers carry through Washington waters could increase dramatically in the years ahead. That’s because Canada is poised to approve a tripling of capacity in the TransMountain Pipeline so that bitumen processed from interior oil sands can be exported from British Columbia to global markets.The threat of massive spills does not only come from tankers. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion that killed 11 workers led to an oil spill of 168 million gallons — dwarfing the amount released by the Exxon Valdez.
“If there is a single lesson we have learned, it’s that we have to do everything possible to prevent all sorts of scenarios that could lead to a catastrophic spill,” said Rick Steiner, a marine conservationist who — at the time of the Exxon Valdez spill — was employed by the University of Alaska in the Prince William Sound community of Cordova.