By July of 2018, Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO) of Louisiana will replace Crowley Marine Services as Alyeska’s Ship Escort/Response Vessel System contractor in Alaska. Services provided by this contract include operation of escort tugs, general purpose tugs, oil recovery storage barges, and associated personnel. All of these resources are key oil spill prevention and response assets for Prince William Sound.
This transition is the most significant change in oil spill prevention and response equipment and personnel since the system was created.
Our understanding and expectation is that the new services will meet or exceed the current system, with several technological enhancements from what is in place today. This transition provides an opportunity to improve upon existing capabilities, and Alyeska has made a commitment for the Council to be involved in the transition planning process.
The Council is encouraged by the new equipment being purpose-built for service in Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska. However we also need a robust and transparent process to independently verify equipment and personnel capabilities and performance. Such a process would reassure the Council and all Alaskans that that existing safeguards are not weakened.
New equipment brings new technology
ECO is currently building 13 new vessels for the contract: five escort tugs, four general purpose tugs, and four open water barges.
New technology onboard the tugs will include: render-recover winches, a sophisticated technology that automatically maintains constant tension on a line, improving safety and performance during towing, which the Council has advocated to move to for some time.
They will also include forward-looking infrared and digital radar signal processing systems to improve the detection of icebergs as an oil spill prevention measure, as well as to enhance the ability to detect spilled oil on water should prevention measures fail.
In some cases, the new general purpose tugs will be replacing existing conventional tugs that are over 40 years old.
The new open water barges will be outfitted with Crucial skimmers, to replace the TransRec skimmers, and OceanBusters will replace the current U-Boom configurations.
ECO will also be sending one offshore anchor handling utility vessel, the Ross Chouest, which is proposed as the Hinchinbrook sentinel 17 mile standby tug.
Another positive about the ECO transition is that they are going to use Samson Rope Technologies, Inc. as the provider for their towlines, just as Crowley does.
Personnel, training, and testing equipment
Edison Chouest is planning equipment sea trials and personnel pre-qualification drills and exercises in the Gulf of Mexico and in Puget Sound before equipment arrives in Prince William Sound. There is also a planned 6-8 week overlap of Edison Chouest Offshore and Crowley Marine Services crews and equipment in Prince William Sound. We understand that additional training will occur in Prince William Sound during that overlap.
Edison Chouest has begun recruiting personnel, and recruiting efforts will ramp up towards the end of summer 2017. They will have to comply with the Alyeska’s 20 percent Alaska Native hire requirements.
The Council supports training in local waters
The Council’s goal is to ensure the equipment can safely operate in Alaska waters and the crews are adequately trained and qualified. The Council is working to develop specific recommendations regarding equipment capabilities, the process to ensure that crews are adequately trained and qualified, and that adequate drills and exercises are conducted before the new contractor takes over.
- People are the most important resource. The Council has been emphasizing the need to drill and exercise in our local waters so that the crews understand the extreme environmental conditions and operating parameters in Prince William Sound.
- While the Council is confident that Edison Chouest Offshore’s personnel are knowledgeable and competent, we are concerned about a large changeover in such a short amount of time.
- Use of unfamiliar equipment in a harsh and unfamiliar environment could be challenging. The Council has concerns regarding the change in equipment and people with experience, and the transition process needs to be handled very carefully in order to maintain the level of prevention and response capabilities in place today.
Independently verifying equipment capabilities
PWSRCAC expects to be involved in reviewing and commenting on training programs and intends to observe as many drills and exercises as possible to verify personnel and equipment capabilities.
The Council supported ADEC’s “Best Available Technology” process that was used when the first new construction tugs were custom built for service in Prince William Sound in the late 1990s. This process set the standard for determining BAT, and we want the same rigor used to keep the bar high.
A transparent process
The Council is committed to working with Alyeska and regulators to ensure that the level of prevention and response services are not weakened as a result of this transition.
We all want the same thing – to prevent oil spills, and to have the best response system possible should prevention measures fail. To do this, we must have a robust and transparent process in place to independently verify capabilities and performance to make sure that existing safeguards are not weakened.
The Council was created to involve local citizens in decisions that impact the safe transportation of oil. Our members have local knowledge and input that is essential to ensuring the strongest possible oil spill prevention and response system for our waters.
Council-sponsored reports related to transition:
The Council has hired the firms of Robert Allan Ltd., Little River Marine Consultants and Nuka Research and Planning Group to help us evaluate equipment specifications, crew training and proficiency, and other aspects of the transition.
- Recommendations to Verify and Sustain Prevention and Response System Readiness in Prince William Sound (PDF) 9/9/2017 – by Little River Marine and Nuka Research And Planning LLC
- Development of the Current PWS Escort System: Regulations, Analysis, and System Enhancements (PDF) – 6/13/2017 – by Nuka Research And Planning LLC
- Industry and Class Standards for Escort Tugboats (PDF) – 1/28/2017 – by Little River Marine
- A Review of the Proposed New Escort and Support Tugs for Tanker Operations in Prince William Sound (PDF) – 2/10/2017 – by Robert Allan, Ltd