By Lt. Cmdr. Edward Nixon, SC, USN REGIONAL FUELS DIRECTOR, NAVSUP FLEET LOGISTICS CENTER PUGET SOUND and Douglas Tailleur DEPUTY ENVIRONMENTAL DIRECTOR, NAVSUP FLEET LOGISTICS CENTER PUGET SOUND
Nestled on the western shore of Puget Sound lies the Manchester Fuel Depot (MFD), a Navy fuel facility operated by NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center (FLC) Puget Sound Fuel Department. MFD is the nation’s largest defense fuel support point for the Defense Logistics Agency in the continental United States. Since the first fuel delivery by the USS Tippecanoe (AO 21) in December 1941, MFD has been at the forefront of providing outstanding fuel support to the fleet in the Pacific Northwest (PacNW).
The fuel depot’s mission is to receive, store, and issue on-specification aviation and marine petroleum products that support Department of Defense missions and operations throughout the region.
Since 2011, over one billion gallons of fuel, lube oil, and additives have passed through the depot. More than half of that volume supported aviation operations at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. However, MFD goes beyond providing fuel support for Whidbey Island. In addition, MFD supports aircraft carriers and small craft stationed at Naval Base Kitsap (NBK)-Bremerton; the submarine force at NBK-Bangor; the surface ships at Naval Station Everett; the U.S. Coast Guard fleet of icebreakers and cutters, Military Sealift Command assets positioned or operating in the PacNW; allied forces operating in the area; and other vessels that require service.
The volume of fuel and petroleum products handled by the engineers and fuel specialists (known as “fuelies”) at MFD brings inherent risks. However, fuel operations at the facility also bring an immense responsibility to protect the depot’s pristine natural surroundings. The state of Washington, Navy Region Northwest, and the Puget Sound community–from local governments to the homeowners living outside the fence line–rightfully expect responsible stewardship of the environment. MFD exceeds these expectations through the NAVSUP FLC Puget Sound Fuel Department’s environmental mission, which focuses on two key aspects: proactive management of MFD’s ecosystem and effective spill response.
MFD’s robust spill response program is vital to maintaining a healthy ecosystem. As part of the program, the NAVSUP FLC Puget Sound annually conducts two deployment drills and a tabletop exercise to ensure peak performance in spill response. During these drills, MFD fuelies practice oil spill recovery methods, deploy oil spill boom, and practice protection strategies to prevent damage to the natural environment as well as public assets of cultural and historic value.
In October 2019, The U.S. Coast Guard conducted a government initiated unannounced exercise for an “average most probable” discharge scenario as identified in the NAVSUP FLC Puget Sound Fuel Department Facility Response Plan. The drill’s premise involved a ruptured transfer hose discharging approximately 2,100 gallons of F76 fuel into the water. The MFD fuelies successfully completed the drill by initiating agency notification, securing the source of the spill, and controlling the spill area through primary and secondary containment. Their rapid NAVSUP FLC deployment of a portable skimming system and vacuum trucks removed the simulated petroleum product from the water.
Along with its annual training requirements, the Fuel Department at Manchester participates in a triannual “worst case” drill that encompass various agencies from the region, including the Washington State Department of Ecology, U.S. Coast Guard, Navy Region Northwest, area tribal governments, and local government officials. The drill demonstrated the MFD’s ability to integrate assets and coordinate operations with local, state, and federal agencies to combat a major spill anywhere in the Puget Sound region.
“The Washington Department of Ecology appreciates the U.S. Navy’s efforts to prevent, prepare and respond to oil spills. These efforts provide the opportunity for rapid, aggressive and well-coordinated response in the event of a spill,” said Scott Zimmerman of the Washington Department of Ecology Spill Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Program.
MFD maintains over seven miles of oil spill boom, 11 vessels for response, and the USCG Vessel of Opportunity Skimming System. Meticulous training, frequent response drills, and proactive management of equipment and resources ensure the fuelies at MFD are always prepared to respond to petroleum spills in the area, regardless of the source.
“All staff participate in the environmental response and all are invested in the environment here,” said Michael Hardiman, chief engineer, NAVSUP FLC Puget Sound Fuel Department.
The NAVSUP FLC Puget Sound Fuel Department at MFD looks for every opportunity to blend its primary fuels mission with continued sustainability of the natural environment. The entire team searches continually for new, innovative solutions and opportunities. One such opportunity resulted in an ongoing partnership with a local high school and a community service organization to release salmon hatchlings into the section of Beaver Creek that passes through fuel depot property.
The facility’s 234-acre property contains forests, a 26-acre lagoon, and a salmon-bearing stream. MFD strives to enrich and protect the watersheds, soils, forests, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources. For example, MFD is facilitating a project to replace an undersized and degraded culvert on Beaver Creek, a critical salmon-bearing stream in the local area. The construction of a larger, more natural fish passage culvert will provide an improved passageway for spawning salmon. Beaver Creek has the potential to provide spawning habitat for multiple salmon species including Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), Chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta), and Coastal Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarki clarki). The new culvert will also allow natural dispersion of stream material above and below the culvert to create a more natural streambed and benefit organisms that rely on the stream for habitat. Finally, the new culvert will allow salmon to swim freely from MFD to Manchester State Park, about a mile north of MFD.
Another demonstration of MFD’s commitment to the environment is that bald eagles feed and roost within the MFD boundary. These magnificent birds are federally protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as the state of Washington bald eagle protection rules. There is one known bald eagle nest platform near the shoreline, overlooking the fuel pier. MFD officials established construction- and repair-free zones in key areas of the facility to protect the nest. The bald eagle nest at MFD is considered the most productive on Navy property in the Pacific Northwest area.
The fuelies, along with the leadership of NAVSUP FLC Puget Sound, view the commitment to the stewardship of the natural environment as an integral aspect of their mission. This focus on fleet support while always mindful of environmental protection will ensure this facility remains the Navy’s fuel jewel of the Pacific Northwest for years to come.