The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council (PWSRCAC) has taken the position that oil tankers and escort vessels should not be permitted to transit through Prince William Sound and into the Gulf of Alaska in weather conditions deemed to be unsafe for personnel training by the industry.
The unanimous vote on the resolution, which does not require action by the industry, came during the January 18 PWSRCAC meeting in Anchorage, Alaska. It will be shared with officials at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the US Coast Guard.
“We understand there is disagreement with the industry, but are hopeful that this will lead to continued discussions on this topic,” said Brooke Taylor, director of external affairs for the council. “While the council has had a previous policy with similar elements to it, this is a new iteration of that topic because of the new contractor,” she added.
The resolution was prompted by the upcoming change in marine service contract providers by Alyeska Pipeline Service Company’s Ship Escort/Response Vessel System from Crowley Marine Services to Edison Chouest Offshore, effective July 2018.
“The oil tanker escort system in Prince William Sound is an essential oil spill prevention measure that is vital to reducing the risk of another catastrophic event, such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill,” said Donna Schantz, executive director of the council. On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker, owned by Exxon Shipping Co., struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, spilling 10.8 million gallons of crude oil, creating one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters on record.
“If it is unsafe to train personnel, it is unsafe to transport oil,” said Amanda Bauer, council board president. “This position does not just apply to the incoming contractor, but sets the standard to which the council feels all future new contractors, equipment and crews should be held. We believe strongly that these standards are needed to ensure the economic and environmental safety of the communities and groups we represent.”
The council believes it is unsafe to require crews to respond to a vessel emergency in Prince William Sound in adverse weather with inadequate or no training or experience in these conditions, and that new crews must receive training and experience in the full range of operating conditions in which they are expected to perform. The council also believes it is reasonable, prudent and safe to limit laden tanker transits through Prince William Sound and into the Gulf of Alaska to the same range of weather conditions in which escort vessels are certified and crews trained.
“We agree with industry and regulators that crew safety is the first priority,” Schantz said. “We believe that drills and exercises, including in adverse weather, are controlled events, as they can be stopped at any time that the risk to crews or vessels becomes unacceptably high.”
The council acknowledged that the transition to Edison Chouest Offshore will bring many vessel and equipment improvements to the oil spill prevention and response system for Prince William Sound, but that any time a system goes though transition, in any industry, risk is introduced.