Changes to oil spill contingency plans approved

Extensive amendments due to transition

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation recently approved major amendments to oil spill contingency plans for both the Valdez Marine Terminal and for the tankers that transport oil through Prince William Sound. Both approvals came with conditions.

Neither the tanker plan, nor the terminal plan was due for a renewal. However, Edison Chouest Offshore is bringing so much new equipment and personnel to their new role as Alyeska’s marine services contractor that major changes were needed to both plans. Major amendments require a public comment period.

The public comment period, which began last July, ended in April and May, and the department issued approvals in June. Both approvals are subject to several conditions, meaning the plan is tentatively approved, but there are required steps that must be taken for the approval to be valid. Among other details, the following must be described in the plan:

  • Each Edison Chouest vessel, and their crews, must demonstrate their capabilities and be approved for prevention and response duties by the department.
  • Escort tugs must show they can fully stop the largest tanker in the fleet.
  • Each tug, and each captain, must show they can perform required escort and assist maneuvers from different angles and at different speeds.
  • The general purpose tugs and the utility tug must demonstrate various emergency towing maneuvers.
  • Each class of tug had to fulfill the U.S. Coast Guard’s requirements to tow a tanker at 4 knots, or 4.6 miles per hour; and simulate holding a tanker in a steady position against a headwind of 45 knots, or 51 miles per hour.
  • All tugs must demonstrate they can work with the barges and fishing vessels to perform the response activities required in case of a spill.
  • Barges must demonstrate deployment of response equipment.
  • For the terminal plan, the vessels must also demonstrate docking and undocking.

The department is also requiring the escort tugs, general purpose tugs, utility vessel, and oil spill response barges to conduct one exercise in winds of at least 20 knots, or 23 miles per hour, and one exercise during darkness. These exercises must be completed by December 31, 2018.

Next steps

The industry is required to update these plans every five years, and submit them for public review. The amended terminal plan expires in November of 2019, and the tanker plan expires in January of 2022, when the regular five-year plan reviews are scheduled to occur.

What is a contingency plan?

A contingency plan, or “c-plan,” outlines steps to be taken before, during, and after an emergency.

An oil spill contingency plan contains detailed information on how to prevent an oil spill, as well as response activities in the event a spill occurs.

Preventing an oil spill from occurring in the first place is the most effective way to protect human health and the environment.

If an oil spill occurs, however, a systematic and well-organized approach is necessary to quickly contain and control a spill. Responding efficiently and effectively to a spill requires advanced planning and preparedness.

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