The Council has long been an advocate for the prevention of oil spills. Now, we are advocating for the prevention of illness. We hope all members of the Council’s family of volunteers and partners are healthy and coronavirus-free, and remain that way.
To reduce the risk of exposure and propagation of the virus, we have closed our office to the public, and we request that all meeting attendees please join us via teleconference or videoconference for the time being. We will keep you updated via our website and the Council’s Facebook page when we plan to reopen.
Most of our staff are working from home, however we do currently have limited staffing in both offices. Please contact our offices at 907-277-7222 (Anchorage) or 907-834-5000 (Valdez) if you need call-in numbers or have any questions.
The U.S. Coast Guard has recertified the Council as meeting its responsibilities under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. In a February 25 letter to the Council, Rear Admiral M. T. Bell, Commander of the Coast Guard’s District 17 in Juneau, notified the Council of recertification. The Act requires the Council to be recertified annually as the official citizens’ advisory group to the oil industry in Prince William Sound. Guidelines established in 2002 streamlined the recertification process for two out of three years, with every third year requiring stricter procedures. The more extensive process was used this year. The new recertification expires February 28, 2021. At that time, the Council is scheduled to undergo the streamlined version of recertification.
The council received almost 70 letters of support from organizations, agencies, businesses, Native corporations, and members of the public during the recertification process. Copies of the Council’s application for recertification or letters of support received can be obtained by contacting Brooke Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yesterday the Council submitted comments on the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s public scoping on the state’s oil spill contingency plans for preventing and cleaning up an oil spill.
“PWSRCAC does not think the regulations are necessarily flawed as they are written. The regulations have proven to be protective of Alaska’s people and environment for decades, and it is critical that the protections written into them not be weakened in any way. It is equally important to maintain transparency, predictability, and specificity required to verify operational needs, which is currently in the regulations.”
Public trust in our oil spill prevention and response system took many years to rebuild after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. It took a commitment to transparency, listening and engaging stakeholders in developing and maintaining the system of safeguards we have today for the Valdez Marine Terminal and associated tankers. Alyeska Pipeline Service Company initiated many of the spill prevention and response improvements by working with regulators and the public, a testament to their ongoing commitment to the people, environment and safety.
This system is now widely regarded as one of the best in the world. Strong State of Alaska statutes and regulations have been a major driver of this robust system. The lack of significant spills in Prince William Sound over the last 30 years indicates the effectiveness of industry meeting or exceeding regulatory requirements.
In enacting the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, Congress determined that only when local citizens are involved in oil transport will the trust develop that is necessary to change the system from confrontation to consensus, and so the Act called for creation of citizen councils.
The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council was created to provide a voice for citizens, those with the most to lose in the event of a large spill. Our council is a unique partner for industry and regulators, giving them a platform to provide information, answer questions, listen to stakeholders and cultivate the long-term relationships that are necessary to establish public trust. Involving local citizens in the process of independently verifying the state of readiness to prevent and respond to oil spills helps build trust.
The inability to verify is at the core of concerns the council currently has regarding the upcoming sale of BP’s Alaska assets to Hilcorp, including the transfer of 49% ownership of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System. There is a lack of information available for the public to determine whether Hilcorp and/or Harvest is financially fit, willing and able to safely and reliably operate the Valdez Marine Terminal and associated tankers in Prince William Sound.
When BP and Hilcorp/Harvest filed with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to request approval of the transfer of operating authority, Hilcorp/Harvest also filed a petition for confidential treatment of certain financial information. Meanwhile, the public has been asked to provide comments and participate in a public process without access to this information. How can the public be expected to make meaningful comments when important information is not available?
For the past 40 years, every owner of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System has disclosed financial information to the investment community in order to be publicly traded. The public deserves to have access to Hilcorp/Harvest’s financial information in order to determine whether the transfer of operating authority to Hilcorp/Harvest is in the best interest of the public.
The Regulatory Commission of Alaska has said it will make a determination by March 12, 2020, on whether the financial statements will be disclosed to the general public. Under Alaska law, records of all public agencies are open to inspection by the public, unless specifically provided otherwise. The council urges the commission to take a position of full transparency by allowing public access to basic financial information. Safeguarding our state by ensuring Hilcorp/Harvest’s ability to respond to a major spill and properly clean up as assets are shutdown must outweigh concerns about privacy for this information.
Alaskans should be welcoming Hilcorp/Harvest and supporting the successful transfer and operation of these assets that are so important to the state. The public should be looking forward to building cooperative and collaborative relationships founded upon the transparent sharing of information. We know from experience that Congress was right when they said that only when stakeholders feel informed, heard and included in the process, will trust and acceptance develop. Transparent access to information regarding the transfer of assets from BP to Hilcorp/Harvest is essential to building public support and trust.