Puget Sound Oil Spill Investigated

Scientists planned to examine oil samples and the Coast Guard issued subpoenas in an investigation into who caused at least 1,000 gallons of oil to spill in Puget Sound (search), officials said.

Oil samples were sent to the state Ecology Department and to a Coast Guard (search) lab for examination, said Larry Altose, spokesman for the state department. The spill was discovered Thursday.

Coast Guard Capt. Danny Ellis, commander of the Puget Sound marine safety office, speculated that crew error or an equipment malfunction caused the spill.

"We're hoping whoever did this will 'fess up soon," Ellis said. "If they don't, we'll catch them." Subpoenas were issued for individuals and vessels.

The cost of the spill's cleanup has topped $750,000, officials said. If found, the culprit could be fined up to $100,000 for each day of contamination, Altose said.

As of late Sunday, cleanup crews had and recovered 5,900 gallons of oily water and more than 6 tons of oily debris.

The amount of material recovered "may indicate that there was a higher amount spilled" than the previous estimate of 1,000 gallons, Altose said Monday.

Although the spill was comparatively small, the potential environmental impact was magnified because it was not immediately reported, officials said. It eventually left deposits on 21 miles of shoreline.

Officials said few contaminated birds and other animals have been found, but one contaminated seal pup died over the weekend at a wildlife center after having been found on a beach, officials said.