Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Around the Sound: Bellingham barges demystified

By Katie J. Skipper, communications manager, Bellingham

We’ve been seeing some questions circulating about barges anchored in Bellingham Bay, and I thought it would be helpful to provide some information from our perspective.

Oil barges are regulated by state and federal law, which require operators to immediately report to Ecology and the Coast Guard any oil spills or illegal discharges to water. We have received no reports of any spills or discharges from these barges.

We regularly inspect fuel transfers over water to determine if the operations pose an environmental risk, and if they comply with state regulations.

Barge operators must notify the Vessel Traffic Service, operated by the U.S. Coast Guard, of their voyages and anchorages, of which Bellingham Bay is one. The fuel barges notify Ecology when they transfer cargo, and the facilities, such as refineries, notify Ecology when they load a barge or ship.

The barges you see in Bellingham Bay typically carry refined petroleum products such as gasoline or diesel fuel, although some large fishing vessels and refrigerated vessels also anchor there waiting to get to Bellingham Cold Storage.

Generally, these barges take on refined products from the refineries. They also may be used as product storage during refinery maintenance.

There was an increase in barge traffic during recent routine maintenance at Conoco-Phillips Ferndale Refinery, which required operations to be shut down at part of the plant. The refinery was storing partially refined product in the barges until maintenance was completed.

The barges don’t have engines for propulsion. They rely on tug boats to move around.
Bellingham Bay is a protected anchorage used primarily by tug and barge company K-Sea Transportation, although other companies sometimes use it, too.

K-Sea is not in the bunkering business, which means they generally do not refuel vessels from barges.

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