Plan for applying dispersants to crude oil spills in Alaska waters updated

Stricter rules applicable in certain areas

This map from the ARRT (larger image at the link) shows the “preauthorized area” between 24 and 200 nautical miles from shore (within the green boundaries). Within the preauthorized areas, some “avoidance areas” have been reclassified (striped areas) and will require the case-by-case approval.

The Alaska Regional Response Team, or ARRT, recently updated a list of areas that would receive extra scrutiny before dispersants are applied to a crude oil spill. The update completes the planned changes to the Dispersant Use Plan for Alaska. The plan is a guide for spill responders, and it spells out how oil spill dispersants would be used during a crude oil spill. The previous dispersant use plan had not been updated since 1989.

The first changes went into effect in 2016. Two different processes for deciding whether to use dispersants, depending on the location of the spill, were developed at that time. The application of dispersants is now considered “preauthorized” except for “avoidance” areas. In an avoidance area, a decision to use dispersants must undergo more extensive scrutiny on a case-by-case basis.

By pre-authorizing use of dispersants in certain areas, the ARRT can speed up the decision-making time on whether or not to use dispersants. Consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries Services is still required before dispersants would be used in a preauthorization area. For avoidance areas, additional consultation and a consensus between the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior, the Department of Commerce, and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is required prior to use.

There is a short window of time after a spill when dispersants should be applied. Dispersants work best on freshly spilled oil.

Read morePlan for applying dispersants to crude oil spills in Alaska waters updated

Council issues position on safe crude oil tanker transit and escort vessel operation in the Sound

The Seward spill response fleet trains for spill response.

The Council voted unanimously on January 18, 2018, to pass a resolution stating that oil tankers and escort vessels should not be permitted to transit through Prince William Sound and into the Gulf of Alaska in weather conditions which have been determined by industry to be unsafe for training.

The resolution was prompted by the upcoming change in marine service contract providers by Alyeska Pipeline Service Company’s Ship Escort/Response Vessel System, including crude oil tanker escort vessel services, effective July 2018. Council executive director Donna Schantz stated, “The oil tanker escort system in Prince William Sound is an essential oil spill prevention measure that is vital to reducing the risk of another catastrophic event, such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.”

“If it is unsafe to train personnel, it is unsafe to transport oil,” said Council Board president Amanda Bauer. “This position does not just apply to the incoming contractor, but sets the standard to which the council feels all future new contractors, equipment and crews should be held. We believe strongly that these standards are needed to ensure the economic and environmental safety of the communities and groups we represent.”

Read moreCouncil issues position on safe crude oil tanker transit and escort vessel operation in the Sound

Report identifies concerns with tanker escort tugs being built for service in Prince William Sound

The council has identified some areas of concern with the design of the new escort and general purpose tugs under construction by Edison Chouest Offshore for use in Prince William Sound. These concerns and recommendations result from a council-commissioned analysis of the tugs by Robert Allan Ltd., a naval architecture and marine engineering company.

Edison Chouest Offshore is taking over the marine services contract for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company in the summer of 2018. Crowley Maritime has held the contract since the creation of Alyeska’s Ship Escort/Response Vessel System after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The services provided under this contract include escort tugs, general purpose tugs, oil recovery storage barges, and associated personnel, all of which are key oil spill prevention and response assets for the Valdez Marine Terminal and associated oil tankers operating in Prince William Sound. Robert Allan Ltd. was contracted by the council to review and evaluate drawings and other vessel design materials provided by Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. This review includes information that was provided to the council as of December 14, 2016.

Read moreReport identifies concerns with tanker escort tugs being built for service in Prince William Sound

Vessel construction, planning underway for Crowley to Edison Chouest transition

Council conducting independent review of vessel designs

This Alyeska chart compares some of the capabilities and specifications of the new vessels to the current fleet. The council is independently analyzing the vessels’ design specifications. Image courtesy of Alyeska.
This Alyeska chart compares some of the capabilities and specifications of the new vessels to the current fleet. The council is independently analyzing the vessels’ design specifications. Image courtesy of Alyeska. (CLICK PHOTO FOR LARGER IMAGE.)

By July of 2018, Edison Chouest Offshore, or ECO, of Louisiana will be the marine services contractor for oil tankers and the terminal in Prince William Sound. Until then, Alyeska and ECO will be working with Crowley Maritime, the contractor who currently provides those services, on a smooth transition between the two contractors. These services include escort tugs, general purpose tugs, oil recovery storage barges and associated personnel, all of which are key oil spill prevention and response assets for Prince William Sound. For instance, two state-of-the-art escort tugs accompany every laden tanker that leaves Port Valdez. One tug is tethered through the confined waterway called the Valdez Narrows, and one tug stands by at Hinchinbrook Entrance until the tanker is 17 miles into the Gulf of Alaska. The primary responsibility of these escort tugs is to rescue or “save” a tanker that may experience problems and prevent oil from spilling, and initiate response efforts should these prevention measures fail.

Read moreVessel construction, planning underway for Crowley to Edison Chouest transition