Council hiring manager for science projects

Council staffers Austin Love and Nelli Vanderburg work with the Smithsonian staff to survey Port Valdez. Photo by Kim Holzer.

We are hiring!

The Council is seeking a Scientific and Environmental Monitoring Program Manager. This science project manager position coordinates a variety of science and environmental monitoring research projects that are consistent with the Council’s mission. This position is responsible for:

  • Coordinating the work of a team of scientists on the Scientific Advisory Committee,
  • Managing the contracts and activities of research consultants and scientists
  • Developing research programs and projects
  • Applying research results to oil spill contingency planning, policy positions, and scientific reviews
  • Disseminating research information to the public, industry, and regulators

The Council is seeking a candidate who works effectively with other team members; has strong organizational, research, and communication skills; works well under pressure; and is committed to its mission.

Minimum qualifications include a Bachelor’s degree or relevant job experience. A Master’s degree in an appropriate field is preferred.

The ideal candidate will have:

  • Three years of project management experience
  • Demonstrated contract management
  • Budget administration
  • Public speaking skills
  • Knowledge of the petroleum industry
  • Experience or education in environmental science, another relevant scientific field, or an engineering discipline.
  • Competency with Microsoft Office and Adobe products and document management software such as Filemaker Pro, is desirable.
  • Experience working with volunteers, the Exxon Valdez oil spill impacted region, cross cultural communication, and the Alyeska marine terminal and oil shipping in Prince William Sound are a plus.

The minimum base salary is $75,000 and may be adjusted depending on experience. An additional 25 percent of base salary is added after 60 days for benefits. This position is located in Anchorage, Alaska.

How to apply:

To apply, please submit:

  1. A cover letter detailing your qualifications
  2. A resume
  3. At least three professional references

Candidates can apply via email at jobs@pwsrcac.org, or by mail addressed to 3709 Spenard Rd., Anchorage, AK 99503, Attn: Director of Administration.

For more information please download the full job description: 

The position will remain open until filled with the first review of applicants taking place on April 12 , 2019.

New study analyzes weather at Hinchinbrook Entrance

A recent Council-sponsored report found that wind and waves at Hinchinbrook Entrance may be under reported as observed by the Seal Rocks weather buoy.

Researchers from Tetra Tech analyzed wind and wave data to better define weather conditions at the Entrance, as well as how these conditions might affect rescue operations by the escort tugs. To do this, researchers looked at the frequency and duration of weather events when the Entrance was closed to laden tankers.

Average closure conditions

A "wind rose" graphic that shows the speed and direction of wind as recorded at Seal Rocks.
This “wind rose” graphic shows the speed and direction of wind as recorded at Seal Rocks.

Wave height alone was found to be the cause of most of the closures, occurring 10 to 26 times a year on average. Average wave height during closures was over 17 feet and the highest recorded wave was over 26 feet. Wind speed closes the Entrance one to three times annually, as do closures for both wind and waves. Winds average just over 54 miles per hour during closure and the highest recorded wind speed was over 61 miles per hour.

Closures for winds typically last less than two hours, while waves close the Entrance for an average of just over six hours.

Seal Rocks buoy’s data may not be precise

Researchers also compared the data collected from the Seal Rocks buoy to other close-by weather stations. During most conditions, they found that wind speeds may be over reported, meaning actual wind speeds are slower, compared to nearby buoys. However, the researchers added that during the highest wind speeds, buoys may be tilted, causing under reporting, but that this would need further study.
Wave heights at Seal Rocks may be under reported, meaning actual wave heights could be higher than the data shows.

For  more information: 

The Council studies and monitors ocean and weather conditions to ensure the best, most scientifically accurate advice on a safe and effective spill prevention and response system in accordance with their OPA 90 mandate. 

Read the full report on our website:

More information about our weather monitoring:

Out-of-service buoy and winter storms raise concerns

An out-of-service buoy and a series of recent storms have combined to raise concern at the Council about tanker transit procedures during period with the high wind speeds and wave heights in which tankers are allowed to travel through Prince William Sound.

Seal Rocks buoy out of service


From May until December of 2018, a critical buoy located near Hinchinbrook Entrance was out-of-service. This buoy, referred to as “Seal Rocks buoy,” collects wind speed and wave height data. That information is used by the U.S. Coast Guard to make decisions as to whether Hinchinbrook Entrance is open or closed to outbound laden oil tanker traffic. When this buoy is inoperable, the U.S. Coast Guard uses data from two nearby buoys, Cape Cleare and Cape Suckling, along with reports from Edison Chouest Offshore, or ECO, tug crews that are sent out to observe wind and waves to make Hinchinbrook Entrance open and closure decisions.

In November and December, several winter storms came through Prince William Sound that raised concern about these alternate methods for reporting weather conditions at the Entrance.

Problems arise during November and December’s stormy weather

On the afternoon of November 12, an outbound laden tanker departed its berth at 1:30 p.m., after an ECO utility tug noted wind and wave heights were below closure conditions at noon. At 1:37 p.m., however, the same ECO tug reported 50 knot winds with higher gusts. The Coast Guard closed Hinchinbrook Entrance a few minutes later. The tanker continued its outbound transit for six hours all while Hinchinbrook Entrance remained closed. The tanker then made the decision to conduct racetrack circles to maintain a holding pattern in Southern Prince William Sound until 9:30 p.m., when Hinchinbrook re-opened.

The ECO utility tug had left an oil spill response barge moored in Port Etches while it was away observing weather at the Entrance. At around 11 p.m., high winds caused the barge to break loose from its mooring, resulting in the barge running aground. There were no injuries and the barge sustained only minor damage. In addition, at some point the ECO utility tug lost one of its anchors, and a thruster failed. Alyeska is still investigating these occurrences.

Two other storms, one in late November and another in December, re-emphasized the concerns. During these two storms, ECO tugs reported wave heights just below closure as laden oil tankers departed through Hinchinbrook Entrance. In both cases, weather data from Cape Cleare which is approximately 60 miles southwest of Seal Rocks, and Cape Suckling, approximately 125 miles to the southeast, indicated that wave heights were significantly above closure limits, and forecasts predicted weather to worsen.

Further evaluation needed

In a February letter to the Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and the industry, the Council recommended improvements be made to clarify the procedures for reporting weather conditions when the Seal Rocks buoy is inoperable. In addition, the Council recommends further evaluation of the buoys, their locations, and consideration of additional buoys to improve the weather reporting in the area.

“The Council’s main concern is if a tanker experiences a problem during one of these storms, the tugs and crews will be called in to assist. We are concerned about the safety of the tugs and crews, and their ability to prevent an oil spill in weather conditions that are near or above established Hinchinbrook closure conditions,” said Donna Schantz, Executive Director for the Council. “We’ve also conducted studies that show how an effective oil spill response is not possible in the higher sea states, especially during the winter months.”

Read more:

The Council’s full recommendations:

The Council’s 2007 report on the “response gap” in Prince William Sound:

30 years after Exxon Valdez

Title is Then and Now: 30 Years After the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

How has oil transportation changed in Prince William Sound since 1989?

Image of cover of Then and Now 30 Years After the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
Read more about the changes and remaining concerns in our new publication: Then and Now: 30 Years After the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (PDF)

The immediate cause of 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill was a navigational error on the part of the tanker’s captain and crew. However, Congress found that complacency among the oil industry and the regulatory agencies responsible for monitoring the operation of the Valdez terminal and vessel traffic in Prince William Sound was also a contributing factor in the disaster.

Few prevention measures were in place and cleanup resources were inadequate.

Since 1989, regulatory agencies, the industry, and citizens have been working together on improved methods to prevent oil spills and how to be better prepared to clean up if another spill should occur.

Laws and Regulations

One of the most important results of the oil spill was the enactment of the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990, or “OPA 90,” which addressed many deficiencies, including liability, compensation, and oversight. The law required two citizens’ oversight councils, one for Prince William Sound and one for Cook Inlet.

Both federal and state laws now require more comprehensive prevention measures and planning for larger spills and require more spill response equipment to be immediately available.

What has improved in oil spill prevention since the Exxon Valdez oil spill?

Double hulls

All tankers transporting oil through Prince William Sound are now double-hulled. Double hulls, basically two steel skins separated by several feet of space, are an effective design feature which can reduce or eliminate spills that result from groundings or collisions.

Alyeska’s Ship Escort/Response Vessel System

A fishing vessel practices using oil spill boom and skimmers during fishing vessel training last year. The fishermen bring valuable knowledge about local waters during a spill response. Fishing vessel response was a major improvement in oil spill prevention and response since the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Photo by Cathy Hart.
A fishing vessel practices using oil spill boom and skimmers during fishing vessel training last year. The fishermen bring valuable knowledge about local waters during a spill response. Fishing vessel response was a major improvement in oil spill prevention and response since the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Photo by Cathy Hart.

The Ship Escort/Response Vessel System, known as SERVS, was developed after the Exxon Valdez spill. SERVS’ mission is to prevent oil spills by escorting tankers to ensure they navigate safely through Prince William Sound, provide assistance in order to avoid an accident should the tanker experience an engine failure or other malfunction, and to begin immediate response if there is a spill. SERVS maintains a fleet of large escort tugs, keeps trained response crews on duty around the clock, and has spill response equipment ready to respond.

Improved tanker escorts

The system’s powerful tugs escort all loaded tankers from the terminal at Valdez, through Prince William Sound and Hinchinbrook Entrance, and out into the Gulf of Alaska. Two tugs accompany each laden tanker out of Prince William Sound, with one tug tethered to the tanker until it reaches Central Sound where there is more room to maneuver. One tug will stand by at the Entrance to the Sound until the tanker is 17miles out into the Gulf of Alaska.

Risks from human error

All tanker captains, and any crew member suspected of consuming alcohol, are now subject to alcohol tests before sailing. Crews now receive more training and work hours are limited to reduce accidents caused by fatigue.

Monitoring marine traffic

The Coast Guard now monitors the speed and heading of all tankers and other vessels in Prince William Sound through improved radar and the Automatic Identification System. Vessels equipped with this system transmit real-time information about their locations and movements that is made available to the Coast Guard’s Vessel Traffic System offices in Valdez, as well as Council offices, and others.

What has improved in oil spill response since the Exxon Valdez oil spill?

While prevention measures are the best way to avoid environmental damage from oil spills, even the best system cannot remove all risks. Oil spill response in Prince William Sound has seen many improvements since 1989. Alyeska’s SERVS is now considered one of the best oil spill prevention and response forces in the world.

In 2018, Alyeska began work with their new spill prevention and response contractor, Edison Chouest Offshore. These services include operation of escort tugs, oil recovery storage barges, and associated personnel. These resources are key oil spill prevention and response assets for Prince William Sound. To fulfill their contract, Edison Chouest built nine new tugs and four spill response barges, which represents a significant improvement for the oil spill prevention and response system. In some cases, new general-purpose tugs replaced conventional tugs that were over 40 years old.
In 2018, Alyeska began work with their new spill prevention and response contractor, Edison Chouest Offshore. These services include operation of escort tugs, oil recovery storage barges, and associated personnel. These resources are key oil spill prevention and response assets for Prince William Sound.
To fulfill their contract, Edison Chouest built nine new tugs and four spill response barges, which represents a significant improvement for the oil spill prevention and response system. In some cases, new general-purpose tugs replaced conventional tugs that were over 40 years old. 

Contingency plans

Contingency plans, extensive documents which contain details on preventing and cleaning up oil spills, are required by state and federal law. The requirements in these plans have expanded since 1989 and now must demonstrate that larger spills can be contained and cleaned up with more spill response equipment and trained crews that are immediately available.

Some changes in the contingency plans since 1989 include:

  • Local fishing vessels are an integral part of the response plans. The crews, located in the ports of Valdez, Cordova, Whittier, Homer, Seward, and Kodiak, are contracted by Alyeska to respond in the event of a spill, and trained every year in spill cleanup methods.
  • More emphasis on shoreline protection and wildlife protection.
  • Special strategies have been developed to protect specific areas that have been identified as a sensitive area or a critical resource, such as salmon streams or hatcheries.

Spill response equipment

Photo of Crucial skimmers and Buster spill boom systems with caption: The combination of the new Crucial skimmers with Buster boom systems have increased oil skimming efficiency since 1989.
The combination of the new Crucial skimmers with Buster boom systems have increased oil skimming efficiency since 1989.

In 1989, there were only 13 oil-skimming systems in Alyeska’s response inventory; today, 100 units are available. Only 5 miles of oil spill boom were available in 1989; today, over 50 miles of various types of boom are available. Alyeska had only about 220,000 gallons of storage capacity for recovered oil and oily water immediately after the Exxon Valdez spill; today, on-water storage capacity is now over 34 million gallons.

Spill drills

Before 1989, few oil spill drills were conducted in Prince William Sound. Today, three major exercises take place per year, along with several smaller drills. The drills provide opportunities for response personnel to work with equipment and practice procedures.

Improvements at the terminal

For the first twenty years of operations at the terminal, thousands of tons of toxic vapors were emitted annually during the tanker loading process. These harmful vapors threatened the health of the terminal’s workers and Valdez residents. In 1997, Alyeska installed vapor controls at two loading berths, which nearly eliminated the pollution from loading operations.

The Ballast Water Treatment Facility, designed to clean oily residue from tanker ballast water before it is released back into the environment, has also seen improvements. A system has been installed to reduce the vapors released into the environment from the facility. Over the years, emissions from the Ballast Water Treatment Facility have been reduced.

Concerns remain

Although there have been many improvements, there are still many areas of concern, meriting the continued attention and sustained efforts from the Council. A few of these include:

  • Complacency: Rollbacks or weakening of state and federal environmental protections.
  • Heavy weather operations: The safety of escort tug crews and their ability to respond during strong winds and waves has been questioned due to lack of training in all conditions in which the tugs are expected to operate.
  • Response gap: Studies by the Council have shown that it is not possible to effectively clean up an oil spill during the strong winds and waves in which tankers are allowed to transport oil.
  • Aging infrastructure: The terminal is over 40 years old and was originally designed for 30 years of service.

Then and Now

Read more about the changes and remaining concerns in our new publication: Then and Now: 30 Years After the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (PDF)