Prince William Sound was a hive of activity this summer. On July 1, Alyeska’s marine services contractor transitioned from Crowley Maritime Corporation to Edison Chouest Offshore.
This transition means all of the escort tugs and much of the spill prevention and response equipment in Prince William Sound are brand new, or new to the Sound.
Demonstrations of the new equipment
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation required that each vessel and crew member demonstrate their capabilities before beginning service. Each tug, as well as each tug’s captain, had to perform a set of maneuvers which differed according to the vessel and its purpose.
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 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.”
The Oil Pollution Act of 1990, when first enacted, required that all single-hull oil-laden tankers departing Prince William Sound be escorted by two tugs. In addition, the act included requirements that the industry begin a transition to double-hull tankers.
Over the years, the council became concerned that once this transition was complete, the existing requirements would not extend to these newer vessels and the system could legally be reduced or come to an end.
In concert with its many industry, agency and legislative partners, the council worked to make the two tug escort requirement a permanent part of the oil transportation system in Prince William Sound.
In 2010, an amendment to 1990’s Oil Pollution Act was included in the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010.
Excerpt of amendment: ”…The requirement … relating to single hulled tankers in Prince William Sound, Alaska, … being escorted by at least 2 towing vessels or other vessels considered to be appropriate … shall apply to double hulled tankers over 5,000 gross tons transporting oil in bulk in Prince William Sound, Alaska.”
Signed into law by President Barack Obama on October 15, 2010, the two tug escort system has now been preserved.
The Imperative to Maintain the Currently Utilized Dual Escort Vessel Marine Safety System for Double-Hulled Oil Laden Tankers in Prince William Sound, Alaska:
In 2009, the council produced this briefing booklet to support the legislative process to preserve tanker escorts: