Council met in Homer on September 21-22

The Council held two events in Homer on Thursday and Friday, September 21-22, 2023, including the Council’s annual board meeting and a public reception.

Agenda and meeting materials

On the agenda:

The Council conducted regular business during the meeting, including updates from Council ex officio members, staff and committees. Other topics included on the agenda were:

  • An activity report by Alyeska Pipeline Service Company on the Valdez Marine Terminal and Ship Escort Response Vessel System operations, including an update on Alyeska’s efforts to address concerns identified in the Council’s report “Assessment of Risks and Safety Culture at the Valdez Marine Terminal.”
  • An update from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Spill Prevention and Response.
  • A presentation by representatives from Polar Tankers on the vetting process for foreign flagged tankers being brought into our region.
  • A presentation on marine bird surveys conducted in Prince William Sound in March of 2023.
  • Consideration of a resolution urging the U.S. Coast Guard to homeport a sentinel-class, also known as fast response, cutter in Port Valdez.
  • An update from Council staff on efforts to address the issues and recommendations included in the Council’s report “Assessment of Risks and Safety Culture at the Valdez Marine Terminal.”
  • A report on an analysis of samples taken from the Valdez Marine Terminal’s Ballast Water Treatment Facility to identify a component of hydrocarbons not currently monitored or regulated, known as hydrocarbon oxidation products.
  • A summary of data analyzed from the Council’s weather buoys located near the Valdez Marine Terminal and Valdez Duck Flats.
  • A presentation on the updated “Peer Listener Training Manual,” an appendix to the Council’s “Coping with Technological Disasters – A User-Friendly Guidebook.”

*Council board meetings are routinely recorded and may be disseminated to the public by the Council or by the news media.

Meeting Materials:

Presentations are available at the bottom of this list:

1-00 Final Agenda PWSRCAC September 2023 Board Meeting in Homer
1-01 Draft Minutes of May 4 and 5, 2023
1-02 Draft Special Board Meeting Minutes of April 14, 2023

2-01 List of Commonly Used Acronyms
2-02 August 3, 2023 Budget Status Report
2-03 PWSRCAC Director Attendance Record
2-04 PWSRCAC Committee Member Attendance Record
2-05 List of Board Committee Members
2-06 One Page Strategic Plan
2-07 List of Recent Board and Executive Committee Actions
2-08 PWSRCAC Organizational Chart

3-01 Approval of Annual Sage Intaact Licensing Fee
3-02 Approve Deferral of Project 5591 – Crude Oil Piping Inspection Review
3-03 Contract Authorization- Marine Bird Winter Surveys

4-01 Report Acceptance- PWS Marine Bird Winter Surveys
4-02 Approval of Resolution in Support of Coast Guard Cutter Homeporting
4-03 PWSRCAC Efforts to Address VMT System Integrity and Safety Culture Issues
4-04 Report Acceptance – Oxygenated Hydrocarbons
4-05 Report Acceptance- Port Valdez Weather Buoy Data Analysis 2019-2022
4-06 Report Acceptance- Peer Listener Training Manual
4-07 PWSRCAC Long Range Planning

5-01 Program and Project Status Report

Presentation by Polar Tankers on Vetting Process for Foreign Flagged Tankers
Alyeska/SERVS Activity Report – September 2023
4-01 PRESENTATION – PWS Marine Winter Bird Surveys.pdf
4-04 PRESENTATION – Report Acceptance – Oxygenated Hydrocarbons
4-05 PRESENTATION – Port Valdez Weather Buoy Data Analysis 2019-2022
4-06 Presentation – Peer Listener Manual

Opportunity to nominate an expert

The National Academies’ Gulf Research Program is seeking subject matter experts for a knowledge-sharing opportunity between the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of Alaska. From the Gulf Research Program: 

“The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is seeking nominations for experts to assess the potential value of a knowledge-sharing mechanism among researchers, technical practitioners, and other stakeholders on topics related to oil spill recovery and the resilience of coupled human-environmental systems in the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of Alaska.

As the sites of the two largest oil spills in U.S. history, there is an opportunity to share knowledge to reduce the risk of harm to human health, the environment, and natural-resource-dependent economies due to future disasters. The National Academies is asking the expert committee to plan and participate in a workshop to address whether a sustained mechanism for knowledge sharing would be novel and provide substantial value for stakeholder communities in both regions. The committee would further be tasked with generating a consensus report based on the workshop providing conclusions on the goals of such a knowledge exchange program or alternative strategies for strengthening cooperation between the regions.”

Submit a nomination (by August 18, 2023)

For more information, please contact Stephanie Houser at or 202-334-1404.

Analysis of genes increases understanding of oil’s effects

New techniques in the field of genetic analysis are improving our understanding of the effects of oil spills.

Image of a colony of blue mussels on a shore in Larsen Bay, Prince William Sound. The waters and mountains of Prince William Sound can be seen in the distance.
The Council collects samples from blue mussels like these to better understand the effects of oil spills. Photo by Lisa Matlock.

Since 1993, the Council has gathered data on the presence of hydrocarbons in sediments and blue mussels in the region. Samples of sediments and mussels are collected and analyzed for the presence of oil or other pollutants that originate from the Valdez Marine Terminal and tankers that ship oil from there.

In 2019, the Council began looking at new methods to measure the impacts of oil on the environment. In April 2020, a spill from the terminal leaked approximately 1,400 gallons of oil into Port Valdez. This unfortunate incident presented a unique opportunity to learn.

The new research analyzes the genes of blue mussels using a technique known as “transcriptomics.” Transcriptomics involves measuring how particular genes are expressed in an organism. This expression can be affected by conditions in the environment.

The research began in 2019 with a pilot study. The early research looked at 14 specific genes. More recent work expanded the study to over 7,000 genes, and is summarized in a new report sponsored by the Council.

The researchers compared samples of mussels taken from sites near the terminal, near the Valdez harbor, and a third control site. They found some interesting results.

Effects of oil on genes lingers

After the April 2020 spill, the levels of oil in the mussels had declined by August, however the mussel’s genes showed evidence of lingering effects.

Different pollutants have different effects

More recently, researchers tried to identify how the effects differed according to different contaminants. The crude oil-contaminated samples were compared to samples from the Valdez harbor, which were contaminated with pollutants such as diesel fuel or vessel exhaust, and the control site.

Genes such as those associated with stress, neurotransmitters, and the immune system were among those that varied between the three sites.

Results expected to have far-reaching implications

The information in these studies will help improve the Council’s monitoring program in the future. The researchers noted in the report that the findings are not just applicable to Alaska but could potentially improve monitoring in marine environments around the world.

Drills and exercises getting back to normal

Photo shows responders practicing an oil spill response during low-light conditions. The area is lit using multiple bright lights to be able to see the equipment.
The Council would like to see more exercises performed during low-visibility conditions. If a spill were to occur during winter or a foggy summer day, crews don’t have as much practice in how to adjust tactics for these conditions. Photo by Jeremy Robida.

For the past few years, the COVID-19 pandemic affected many aspects of daily life. Oil spill drills and exercises were not exempt. Restrictions to protect the health and safety of responders limited these activities.

Not only were there fewer drills and exercises, they were harder to observe. Social distancing meant that Council staff could not board tugs and barges to see response operations up close. Council staff members Roy Robertson and Jeremy Robida, who have monitored drills and exercises in Prince William Sound for the past 18 and 13 years respectively, conducted some observations from a separate chartered vessel.

Fortunately, this year many of the restrictions were lifted.

New report summarizes 2022 drills

The Council’s annual report on drills and exercises conducted in Prince William Sound in 2022 has been released. The report highlights some of the continuing effects from the pandemic, along with a few changes that are here to stay.

Conducting business online

Virtual conferencing has changed many workplaces, including oil spill response. These technologies have shown up in several ways.

Coordinating online: Many drills are now hybrid (in person with online participants). Meetings are broadcast on videoconferencing platforms. Documents and other data are shared through online collaboration tools. Robertson says there are still some glitches, but these are improving.

Live video streaming: During a drill in May, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation deployed a drone over some activities out on the water. They were able to stream live video to the Valdez command center and participants in Jacksonville, Florida. The video was also recorded and available for later review.

Online training options: Alyeska’s Ship Escort Response Vessel System conducts annual trainings for crews of local fishing vessels, who are contracted to respond in case of a spill. Before the pandemic, part of the training sessions were held in a classroom, part were hands-on experience with equipment on dry land, and finally, crews would practice deploying equipment on the water.

Since the pandemic, the classroom sessions have been held online. The dry-land portion that required closer physical interaction between participants had not been held since 2020, but returned in 2023. The on-water portion remains the same.

Improvements at Valdez Duck Flats

Pandemic restrictions particularly affected exercises to practice either diverting oil from shorelines or protecting locations that are particularly sensitive to oil contamination, such as hatcheries. These tactics are performed by fishing vessels which have little room for social distancing. The return to in-person exercises is important for these activities.
Robertson noted in the report that responders spent more time this year practicing tactics to protect the Valdez Duck Flats, a highly productive biological area that provides critical habitat for a variety of waterfowl, small mammals, and marine mammals. This area is particularly sensitive to oil contamination. This was time well spent, he says. Robertson said that the responders have become more proficient at these tactics.

More details in the report: Drill Monitoring Annual Report for 2022


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