Schantz and Archibald: Walking the talk on responsible energy development

Photo of Robert Archibald
Robert Archibald
President
Photo of Donna Schantz
Donna Schantz
Executive Director

Senator Josh Revak (R-Anchorage) recently stated in an Anchorage Daily News op-ed, “Alaska has and continues to be a shining example of responsible resource and energy development – where conservation and development have been proven to live in harmony; where stewardship of our lands, resources and environment is not falsely defined as mutually exclusive.” Senator Revak is not alone in this sentiment as this same assessment of responsible energy development is shared by many of Alaska’s political leaders. Governor Mike Dunleavy and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jason Brune have both stated this perspective.

If Alaska wants to remain an example of responsible energy development then it’s imperative to maintain robust environmental regulations and a strong frontline to oil spill prevention and response. While this is a key component to our state’s development future, over the last several years there has been a slow but steady erosion of Alaska’s ability to prevent oil spills, maintain adequate levels of readiness, and adequately respond should a major spill occur.

After the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, citizens and the Alaska legislature worked diligently to ensure the state would be protected from the occurrence and consequences of major oil spills by enacting comprehensive laws and increasing regulatory oversight. These laws, and their related regulations, were based on real experiences and the lessons learned from the spill. Governor Dunleavy has himself noted that Alaska’s environmental standards for oil and gas development are widely considered among the best in the world.

The Spill Prevention and Response, or SPAR, Division within the Department of Environmental Conservation is charged with oil spill prevention, response, contingency planning, regulatory oversight, and other subjects related to the safe handling and transportation of oil and other hazardous substances. Since 2015, SPAR staffing has been reduced by 17 employees and the Governor’s FY2022 Operating Budget proposes cuts that would eliminate five more. The SPAR Division prevention and response work is funded primarily from a 5 cent per barrel surcharge on crude oil produced in the state and just under one cent per gallon surcharge on refined fuel products.

As throughput in the pipeline has decreased, so has the revenue to fund SPAR. This is the justification by the Dunleavy Administration for more cuts to the frontline agency charged with ensuring responsible energy development. While throughput may have decreased, the costs associated with adequate prevention and response systems have not.

If you can recall the images of oiled otters and sea birds, of oil spreading from the Exxon Valdez, then you know what is at stake and why these reductions must be prevented.

Fortunately, there is a remedy working its way through the Alaska Legislature. Section 5 of House Bill 104 proposes a half-a-cent increase to an existing revenue stream, the surcharge on refined fuels, in order to sustainably fund SPAR at existing staffing levels. This measure would preserve a level of protection and readiness in Prince William Sound, and the rest of the state, to help prevent a repeat of the devastation caused by the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Given the solution presented through HB 104 and recognizing the importance of prevention and response work within the state, the finance subcommittee overseeing the budget for the Department of Environmental Conservation has restored the five positions proposed to be cut by the Dunleavy Administration. Hopefully as the budget and HB 104 move through the legislative process, legislators and political leaders who espouse Alaska’s example of responsible development will support these restorative actions for a fully functional SPAR Division.

With over 2,400 contaminated sites in Alaska and far fewer staff, the SPAR Division is having to make difficult choices about how to do less with less. Now is not the time to erode this essential, frontline prevention and response structure. The Council urges all legislators to support the small increase to the existing refined fuel surcharge and, equally important if and when HB 104 passes, encourages the Dunleavy Administration to maintain the FY2021 staffing levels within the SPAR Division. To do anything less would jeopardize the example our political leaders speak about, as well as the health and safety of our communities, economies, and environment.


Oped originally published in the Anchorage Daily News on April 3, 2021: Walking the talk on responsible energy development

Board of Directors met January 28 and 29

Photo of the 2019-2020 Council Board of Directors

The Council held a meeting on Thursday and Friday, January 28 and 29, 2021.

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, as well as an update on the allision earlier this month between the tanker Polar Endeavor and SERVS Tug Courageous at the Valdez Marine Terminal.
  • Comments from Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jason Brune on the division’s proposed FY2022 budget.
  • A report on results of the 2020 forage fish surveys conducted in Prince William Sound to identify species along the shoreline, such as herring, sandlance, and capelin.
  • A presentation on maritime English use between ship crews and native English speakers in examining human factors that may contribute to accidents.
  • An update and presentation on current Council projects working to review maintenance of crude oil storage Tank 8 and cathodic protection systems at the Valdez Marine Terminal.
  • A presentation on the current status of identifying and mitigating the Barry Arm landslide risk in Prince William Sound.
  • A report of the Council’s monitoring of drills and exercises in 2020.
  • A summary by Council staff of incidents (e.g., oil spills, fires, malfunctions causing shutdowns, navigational closures, tanker/escort incidents) at the terminal or on the associated tankers that occurred in 2020.

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


News release:

Prince William Sound RCAC Board Meeting Will Be Virtual, January 28-29 (0.2 MB)

September 2020 Board of Directors Meeting – Virtual

Tanker in Prince William Sound

The Council held a virtual board meeting on Thursday and Friday, September 17-18, 2020. 

 Visual presentations given during the meeting can be accessed by download:

The Council conducted regular business during the meeting, including committee 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 impacts to operations from COVID-19 and an update on the sump pump spill which occurred in April at the Valdez Marine Terminal.
  • An update from Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jason Brune regarding the oil spill prevention and response regulatory reform public scoping process initiated in October 2019.
  • A presentation by representatives of Hilcorp/Harvest Alaska on its Spill Response Organization.
  • A report on genetic analysis of 2018-2019 plankton samples from Prince William Sound to look for and potentially identify marine invasive species.
  • A virtual simulator demonstration by AVTEC staff.
  • A report of the Council’s monitoring of drills and exercises in 2019.

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


Both Council offices (Anchorage and Valdez) are currently closed as a safety precaution due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More information: COVID-19 Updates


News release:

Prince William Sound RCAC Board Meeting Will Be Virtual, September 17-18 (0.3 MB)

PWSRCAC Board meeting scheduled for Seward in September will be virtual only

Update on COVID-19 impacts on Council activities

COVID19The Council is scheduled to hold a Board meeting on Thursday and Friday, September 17 and 18, 2020. The decision was made by the Board to hold the meeting through virtual attendance only, by video/teleconference.

The meeting schedule and agenda will be released the week prior as usual. Information on how to join the teleconference will be provided at that time.

Both Council offices (Anchorage and Valdez) are temporarily closed as a safety precaution due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Council staff are conducting business remotely. All other Council meetings are being offered via teleconference only. Information on how to join meetings can be found in individual meeting announcements or by contacting staff.

The health and safety of Council staff and volunteers are our top priority and will drive decisions as the situation evolves and more information becomes available.

Additional updates on COVID-19 impacts to Council activities and other information related to this situation can be found here: COVID-19: Effects on Council activities

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