Prince William Sound citizens’ council remains committed to its mission

By Donna Schantz and Robert Archibald

Donna Schantz is executive director for the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council. Robert Archibald is the president of the Council’s board of directors and represents the City of Homer.

Photo of Prince William Sound with water in the foreground and mountains in the background. The focs of the image is the fluke, or tail, of a humpback whale peeking out of the water.
Correcting the record: the Council is concerned about protecting whale populations from impacts of the oil industry in our region.

The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council is an independent nonprofit corporation whose mission is to promote the environmentally safe operation of the Valdez Marine Terminal and associated oil tankers. Our work is guided by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and our contract with Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. Although the Council is funded chiefly by Alyeska, we are completely independent from industry and serve in an advisory role.

The Council’s member organizations are communities in the region affected by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, as well as commercial fishing, aquaculture, Alaska Native, recreation, tourism and environmental groups.

At a recent Council board meeting, held in Valdez on May 2-3, 2024, a draft resolution in support of voluntary speed reductions for oil tankers in Prince William Sound was presented by an outside individual. A recent opinion piece contained incorrect information about the Council’s position on this issue and mischaracterized the discussion that took place. The Council would like to correct the record.

The Council has been studying the issue of vessel speed reductions to reduce whale strikes through its technical committees for some time. The Council recognizes that vessel-whale strikes are a widespread problem and that reducing vessel speed is currently the most effective way to lower the number of whale strikes. We also recognize that while there is currently a lack of information and research specifically regarding the prevalence and risk of tanker-whale strikes in Prince William Sound, lack of information does not necessarily mean an absence of harm.

We want to make it clear that the Council is concerned about protecting whale populations from impacts of the oil industry in our region.

During our May meeting, along with the above concerns, Council members discussed current speed limits for laden oil tankers; how slower speeds could reduce air emissions and noise pollution from tankers; the potential increase in crew hours resulting from slower speeds; and whether longer transit time through Prince William Sound could affect safety or have other unintended consequences.

A motion was then passed to issue an advisory letter acknowledging the known benefits of reduced vessel speeds and encouraging further scientific study to better understand the potential occurrence of vessel-whale strikes in our region. The advisory letter will outline the Council’s concerns, questions, and advice regarding the potential outcomes of reduced speeds to tanker operations as a method to mitigate whale strikes, among other environmental concerns. This letter will be directed to relevant regulatory agencies and the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) tanker operators.

The topic of full redundancy in engine and steering systems on all TAPS oil tankers has also recently been brought to the Council’s attention by a member of the public. The request we received was to promote an amendment to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 requiring full redundancy in all newly built tankers in the U.S. The Council believes that, given the importance of the Act, any potential amendments to the legislation should only be considered after thorough vetting and with the utmost due diligence. The Council has not had the opportunity to vet this topic through our technical committees, which is how advice for improving safety is developed at the Council.

The U.S. Coast Guard annually certifies the Council as the federally approved citizens’ advisory group for Prince William Sound, pursuant to the Act. Since the Council was first certified in 1991, the Coast Guard has consistently determined that we foster the general goals and purposes of the Act, and are broadly representative of the communities and interests as envisioned therein.

The Council provides technically and scientifically supported advice and recommendations to promote the safe operation of the Valdez terminal and associated tankers, and reduce the environmental impacts of oil transportation through our region. Council Board and technical committee meetings are open to the public and recordings are available on request. Any member of the public interested in listening to the May board meeting is encouraged to contact the Council at 1-800-478-7221.

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