Upgrades at Valdez Marine Terminal improve safe operations

Tanker at berth.

By Austin Love
Council Project Manager

Over the past three years Alyeska has improved safety and spill prevention measures at the Valdez Marine Terminal’s ballast water treatment facility. In 2012, the Council recognized Alyeska for major improvements made to the facility that significantly reduced the emission of hazardous air pollutants from the facility. These current improvements further enhance environmental safety.

Work to improve safety and spill prevention at the ballast water treatment facility includes:

  • the demolition of one of the two crude oil recovery tanks;
  • replacement of old carbon steel piping with new stainless steel and fiberglass reinforced plastic piping;
  • new electrical wiring and conduit;
  • total refurbishment of a number of valves;
  • installation of new valve actuators;
  • installation of two new recovered crude oil pumps;
  • installation of roofs to protect equipment from snow damage;
  • upgrades to the inert gas (nitrogen) system;
  • installation of new hydrocarbon sensors;
  • move from manual operations to automated, logic control-based operation of the facility;
  • installation of an automated ventilation and incinerator system that would turn on before hydrocarbon gas levels in the system become unsafe.

In general, many of these upgrades were made to improve the safe operations of the facility. Replacing the carbon steel piping with stainless steel and fiberglass reinforced plastic reduces the risk of an oil spill because corrosion rates are much lower in the new piping materials. The move to automated, logic control-based facility operation is intended to reduce the risk of a spill or another problem due to human error. The installation of multiple, more accurate hydrocarbon sensors improves monitoring of hydrocarbon gas throughout the system, helping facility operators ensure concentrations of those gases stay in a safe range. Finally, the installation of the automated ventilation and incinerator system keeps people out of harm’s way in the event of a buildup of hydrocarbon gas and routes that gas for destruction in an incinerator before concentrations become unsafe. Currently, such ventilation is done by sending technicians out to turn on the soon-to-be replaced manual ventilation system.

Using better piping materials, reducing the chance of operator error, and decreasing people’s exposure to hazardous situations are all ways that the multiyear upgrades to the facility should result in safer operations.

What is ballast water? Why does it need to be treated?

Ballast water is seawater taken on board an oil tanker to improve stability at sea. If the ballast water has been transported in an oily cargo tank, it must be treated to remove remnants of oil before the water can be released back into the sea. Over the years, the volume of water needing treatment at the Valdez Marine Terminal has been greatly reduced because the tankers now calling in Prince William Sound all have double hulls and far fewer tankers are visiting the terminal because of reductions in pipeline throughput. However, severe weather encountered on the trip to Alaska sometimes requires extra ballast be carried in oily cargo holds, more ballast than can be contained in the clean, segregated tanks of a double hull tanker. That oil contaminated ballast is cleaned at the terminal’s ballast water treatment facility prior to discharge into Port Valdez.


From Alyeska: Alyeska traveling health fair: Positive impact in the Sound

By Alyeska Corporate Communications

Alyeska’s Traveling Health and Safety Fair spent four days in the Prince William Sound communities of Tatitlek and Chenega Bay in early June, marking the 21st year of the annual event. Eight health care providers from across Alaska, nine UAA pharmacy students and faculty, and a pair of Alyeska employees joined the crew of Edison Chouest Offshore’s utility tug Ross Chouest, which transported the contingent on its five-day journey from Valdez to Tatitlek to Chenega Bay and back.

Alyeska's traveling health fair
Chenega Bay students participate in health fair activities. Photo courtesy of Alyeska Corporate Communications.

The group facilitated two full-day schedules of events each in Tatitlek and Chenega Bay. Both stops included a free health fair available for all residents, where they could receive basic biometric screenings and information on nutrition, healthy relationships, tobacco prevention, active lifestyles, and more. Throughout both days there were also hearing, vision, and development checkups for the community’s kids and classroom sessions about mental health and wellness, first aid and handwashing, positive communication, and healthy food choices.

Each morning, health fair contributors ate breakfast with local youth at their schools. There were also special men’s breakfasts, women’s teas, and community dinners that packed each school’s respective gymnasium, offering tasty and healthy menus that were headlined by Cajun-style shrimp and corn soup created by ECO Chef Chad Cavalier.

Local leaders and high school students also had the opportunity to tour the Ross Chouest, which provides a variety of services around the Prince William Sound area. Captain Carlos Alemany and his enthusiastic crew led visitors around the unique vessel’s deck, into its engine room, and other areas.

Even rare moments of downtime were filled with opportunities for health fair participants to encourage healthy lifestyles by playing basketball or jumping rope with local youth and assist in community projects like sewing tribal regalia, organizing donated library books, and prepping healthy snacks for school kids.

“The Prince William Sound Traveling Health Fair is the culmination of months of careful planning and preparation by Alyeska staff, contractors, and community partners,” explained Kate Dugan, Alyeska’s Valdez Communications Manager. “It was special to make the trip for the first time with Edison Chouest Offshore and the terrific crew aboard the Ross Chouest. The event is always an adventure and this year was no exception.”

Community Corner: Transparency is key to preserving relationships in an era of mistrust

Photo of Betsi Oliver, outreach coordinator.

By Betsi Oliver
Outreach Coordinator

Clean Pacific, a conference for the oil spill prevention and response community, added a track this year with the theme of “communications.” I attended the conference to host the Council’s booth. In sessions and conversations throughout the event I heard one message coming through, loud and clear, about community relationships and trust:

The key to effective communications during a crisis, such as an oil spill, is long-term community relationships. The key to meaningful community relationships is trust. This trust is built on transparency, listening, and engaging key stakeholders in planning and preparation well in advance of any crisis.

The liaison from Canadian pipeline company Trans Mountain, for example, said that their practice of radical transparency met resistance in the company at first. Over time, however, it has proven effective. Sometimes the public misconstrues their messages, but with clarification and mutual dialogue, the community relationships are growing stronger.

This echoed a similar message I heard at an International Association for Public Participation training a few months earlier. Presenters wrestled with how we engage and inform communities in this era of mistrust. Businesses, government, and media are no longer regarded as reliable sources of accurate information. Even non-profits are losing credibility with the public. The recommendations were to seek deep ties to community members, to listen, and to share information, good or bad, transparently.

This sounds like old news to us. From the beginning, the Council fostered deep community ties, transparency, public engagement, and long-term relationships. Our interactions with industry, regulators, and our communities are based on science and the best interest of all stakeholders. We are a unique partner for industry, giving them a platform to provide information, answer questions, and listen to stakeholders, which helps them also develop long-term relationships.

The Council is ahead of the curve. We were created in part to be a model for the development of similar citizen oversight organizations across the country, so it makes sense. Our knowledgeable and active volunteers continually reinforce our deep community ties by sharing the message of who we are and what we do, and by listening to their member entities’ concerns.

Sharing the Council’s mission and message can be fun. Already this year volunteers have mentored teens, judged an ocean sciences quiz bowl, rode bikes in Washington D.C. between visits with legislators, eaten dim sum together, told stories about their lives’ impacts, shared photos, rode a Southwest Alaska Pilots Association boat, toured the pipeline terminal, and more.

Outreach by our volunteers is also effective. Our best social media responses come from posts that show our volunteers having fun while spreading our mission. The Council is most effective at sharing its message when volunteers connect us to their local community’s happenings, spread the word, and bring their friends. When a Council volunteer who is a trusted member of the community shares an informed message, others listen and believe it more readily.

I’m proud to be a part of this Council that has led the field in cultivating community relationships, transparency, and trust for almost three decades.

New buoys now streaming weather conditions from Port Valdez

Photo of new buoy deployed in 2019.

Two new buoys are now in place and broadcasting weather conditions in the vicinity of the Valdez Marine Terminal.

Photo of new buoy deployed in 2019.

The buoys collect weather data such as temperature, wind speed, wind direction, and barometric pressure, as well as oceanographic information like surface current direction and speed, wave heights, and water temperature. This data will help improve understanding of the meteorological and physical oceanographic environment in Port Valdez.

Valdez Marine Terminal – current weather conditions

Duck Flats/Valdez Harbor – current weather conditions

Weather conditions throughout Prince William Sound

Terminal buoy result of cooperative partnership

The buoy closest to the terminal (pictured above) is the result of a partnership between the Council, the Prince William Sound Science Center, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, the City of Valdez, and Valdez Fisheries Development Association.

“Partnerships like these result in collaborative science, which is the best base for providing answers to challenging questions related to planning an effective oil spill response,” said Donna Schantz, Executive Director for the Council. “The Council has long advocated for this kind of data collection at the terminal and believe the information generated will contribute to best practices for prevention and response.”

The partnership is a result of an agreement reached between the Council, the City of Valdez, Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation, Valdez Fisheries Development Association, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation regarding protections in the Valdez Marine Terminal contingency plan for two nearby areas that are particularly sensitive to spilled oil, the Solomon Gulch fish hatchery and a salt marsh known as the Valdez Duck Flats.

In 1994, the tanker Eastern Lion spilled 8,400 gallons of North Slope crude oil into Port Valdez. Oil reached the Duck Flats and hatchery before protective boom was in place.

After that spill, changes were made to the Valdez Marine Terminal contingency plan to ensure that protections were deployed quickly. A rapid-decision tool, called a “matrix,” was created to help responders assess when to deploy protective boom to the Solomon Gulch Hatchery and Valdez Duck Flats during the critical early hours of a response. In 2017, the matrix was modified, and the Council, the City of Valdez, Valdez Fisheries Development Association, and Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation appealed that decision.

Earlier this year, the parties agreed to stay the appeal in lieu of a collaborative workgroup process. The workgroup’s goal is to reach consensus on how to ensure the protection of the Solomon Gulch Hatchery and Valdez Duck Flats. The buoys will provide scientific data to help the workgroup better understand how spilled oil will move in Port Valdez. This knowledge will help determine the timing for deploying protective boom.

Second buoy monitors Valdez Duck Flats

A second buoy has been deployed near the Valdez Duck Flats to monitor conditions in that location. The second buoy has been made possible by partnerships with Prince William Sound Science Center, the City of Valdez, and Valdez Fisheries Development Association.


The map shows the locations of the two sensitive areas of concern, as well as the location of the new buoys. The hatchery is a little over two miles from the terminal, and the flats are approximately four miles.

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