Commerce’s emergency management team responds to regional fuel needs after damaging storms

On Nov. 15, heavy rainfall and strong winds after a prolonged drought led to flooding, landslides, and debris flows which damaged infrastructure in northwest Washington and southwest British Columbia. After a series of atmospheric rivers started pounding the Pacific Northwest, fuel emergencies soon followed in several communities. The State Emergency Operations Center activated the Washington State Department of Commerce’s Energy Emergency Management Office to lead the energy response and recovery coordination.

The Makah Indian Reservation, located near Neah Bay, was among the communities impacted by storm damage. As a result of five separate landslides on Highway 101 and State Route 112, the area was cut off from the rest of Clallam County.

“Residents in the area were unable to receive essential items, including groceries and gasoline,” said Eli King, director of the Energy Emergency Management Office. “After several days, they were forced to conserve gas for emergency vehicles only and submitted a request to our office for a supply of emergency fuels.”

The landslide on State Route 112 which isolated communities in Clallam County following the Nov. 15 storms. The road remains closed and it is estimated repairs may take several months.
The landslide on State Route 112 isolated communities in Clallam County. The road remains closed and it is estimated repairs may take several months. (Washington State Department of Transportation)

The Washington State Department of Transportation opened a narrow, gravel bypass route on Nov. 17. The route allowed King’s team to ensure a vendor in a small fuel truck could make daily deliveries until the landslides could be cleared and the main road is repaired.

Additional storms throughout the area worsened flooding and has prevented cleanup along State Route 112. The extra water has seeped into the soil — causing the mud to continue sliding slowly down the slope. Geo-engineering crews can’t clear the road until it stops, and the Energy Emergency Management Office continues to monitor energy infrastructure in the area.

While King’s team is focused on restoring fuel supplies and infrastructure, communities are grappling with additional damage. The cleanup following the record-breaking storms is just beginning, and Gov. Jay Inslee has requested flood aid from FEMA to support the restoration of public and private properties.

Major Canadian pipeline temporarily shuttered due to erosion

Following the historic flooding, repairs start along Highway 1 in British Columbia where damage was much worse.
Following the historic flooding, repairs start along Highway 1 in British Columbia. (BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)

Damage from the same series of storms was much worse in nearby British Columbia. As a result of flooding erosion, the Trans Mountain Pipeline — which supplies Washington refineries with crude oil from Alberta and refined fuel to the coast of British Columbia — was unearthed. Immediately after the flooding, the pipeline was forced to shut down until damage assessments could occur.

Fortunately, the Trans Mountain Pipeline is has been restored, and the Energy Emergency Management Office continues to work closely with Washington state refineries and the Olympic Pipeline to ensure gasoline and other fuels are available in Washington and Oregon.

Damage response results in international collaboration to support community needs, shows importance of ongoing planning and coordination

Flooding and landslides have also swamped roads and highways in British Columbia. Damage near the city of Vancouver and Vancouver Island cut off the region from the rest of the province. After several days, British Columbia was forced to limit gasoline sales.

The Energy Emergency Management Office contacted British Columbia to offer support. Three days after the storm, the team began collaborating with the British Columbia Provincial Emergency Coordination Center, as well as energy emergency responders from the Western States Petroleum Collaborative, U.S. federal energy professionals and petroleum industry partners.

“This is the first time we’ve coordinated on an international response. Energy infrastructure does not stop at borders,” said King. “We are committed to working together with our neighbors and industry partners to support our communities.”

Near Coquihalla, British Columbia, a bridge was washed out by flood waters on Highway 5.
Near Coquihalla, British Columbia, a bridge was washed out by flood waters on Highway 5. (BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)

King said this level of collaboration will be increasingly necessary as extreme weather events put a strain on energy resources. The work of the Energy Emergency Management Office and WSPC are central to helping manage fuel and energy emergency planning and coordination.

WSPC was previously activated during the summer of 2021 to support the energy emergency response for fuel distribution disruptions caused by wildland fires.

“These kinds of emergencies are not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’,” King said. “We’re seeing that our infrastructure is more vulnerable than we sometimes realize. The planning and collaboration we saw this past month with industry, Tribes and other government entities can make the difference in how quickly communities can get back on their feet.”