Council updates position on dispersant use during an oil spill

Prevention and mechanical recovery should remain primary options

A vessel sprays water as practice for applying dispersants during an oil spill drill.
A vessel sprays water as practice for applying dispersants during an oil spill drill.

The Council’s Board of Directors has updated the organization’s position on use of chemical dispersants in the event of an oil spill in the Prince William Sound and the Exxon Valdez oil spill region. The updated position states that dispersants should not be used on Alaska North Slope crude oil spills in the waters of our region.

Chemical dispersants are substances applied to floating oil slicks that break the oil into smaller droplets that disperse into the water column.

The Council has long endorsed mechanical recovery as the primary tool to clean up an oil spill. Unlike dispersant use, mechanical recovery with booms and skimmers removes oil from the water. Conditions in Prince William Sound often limit the feasibility of dispersant application and dispersants have not been demonstrated to be effective in marine environments with similar temperatures and salinity levels to those found in the Sound. Uncertainty exists over the toxicity caused by adding chemical dispersants to an oil slick and the long-term effects of dispersants application are not well understood. The known harms and potential risks caused by dispersants, in addition to a lack of proven effectiveness and safety, preclude the Council from supporting dispersants.

Oil spill prevention remains the Council’s top priority because once oil is spilled there will always be adverse impacts to human health and the environment. In the event of an oil spill in our region, mechanical recovery and containment of oil spilled at sea should remain the primary response method. The Council also recommends that oil spill response research and development should focus on enhancing and improving mechanical recovery technologies and methods.

The Council’s previous position on dispersant use was adopted in 2006, after years of promoting research and testing to increase knowledge about dispersants and the environmental consequences of their use. In the intervening years, the Council has continued to track developments and analyze peer reviewed scientific literature from around the world regarding the use of dispersants. Discussion and work to develop this update have occurred over the past year, with the final approval taking place at the directors’ meeting in Seward, Alaska, on September 23, 2022.

Details

Further materials on the evidence and rationale supporting the position update are currently being finalized by the Council for publication in early 2023.


PDF of news release: 

PWSRCAC Dispersant Use Position Press Release (0.9 MB)

Board of Directors met in Seward

Glacier near Seward, Alaska. Photo by Linda Robinson, July 2010The Council’s Board of Directors met in Seward on September 22 and 23, 2022. 

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.
    A review of new designs for the replacement of the floor, and a system to limit corrosion within the floor, for one of the crude oil storage tanks at the Valdez Marine Terminal.
  • An update from Council staff and contractors and Alyeska staff on the monitoring of repairs and next steps resulting from snow and ice damage to tank vents at the Valdez Marine Terminal in February and March 2022.
  • Introduction and remarks from Interim Alyeska President Betsy Haines.
  • A video based on field trials for a recent Council study on passing messenger lines to disabled vessels, the first crucial step in setting up a tow line between a rescue tug and a tanker in distress.
  • Discussion to potentially update the Council’s 2006 position on use of dispersants in our region during an oil spill.
  • A report on the availability of out-of-region equipment that would be needed in the event of a major oil spill in our region.
  • A review and assessment of the Council’s Peer Listener Training Program and similar programs nationwide that promote peer-to-peer community support, specifically after disasters such as an oil spill.
  • A report on plankton sampling done throughout Port Valdez in 2021, to understand how these populations varied to improve the monitoring of invasive species.
  • A presentation on marine bird surveys conducted in Prince William Sound in March of 2022.

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


News release: 

PWSRCAC Sept 2022 Board Meeting Press Release (0.5 MB)

Council announces election of Board officers

Photo of Executive Committee for 2022-2023
PWSRCAC Executive Committee for May 2022-May 2023, left to right: Donaldson, Totemoff, Bauer, Archibald, Cutrell, and Beedle. Not pictured: Bob Shavelson.

The Council held its annual Board meeting in Valdez, Alaska, on May 5-6, 2022. Among other business, the Board convened to elect officers who will serve from May 2022 to May 2023.

The elected executive committee is comprised of:

  • President: Robert Archibald, representing the City of Homer
  • Vice President: Amanda Bauer, representing the City of Valdez
  • Treasurer: Wayne Donaldson, representing the City of Kodiak
  • Secretary: Bob Shavelson, representing the Oil Spill Region Environmental Coalition
  • Three Members-at-Large:
    • Ben Cutrell, representing Chugach Alaska Corporation
    • Robert Beedle, representing the City of Cordova
    • Angela Totemoff, representing the Community of Tatitlek

“I am honored to serve as president of the Board for another year,” said Robert Archibald. “As one of two regional citizens advisory councils in the nation, it is incumbent upon our organization to hold accountable industry and regulators. It is essential that the highest safety standards are maintained in order to prevent oil spills and make sure there is a strong response system in place should prevention measures fail in order to protect the citizens, Valdez Marine Terminal workforce, associated tanker crews, and Alaska’s environment which we hold so dear.”

The Council is grateful to have the support of its many volunteers from all over the Exxon Valdez oil spill region. The new executive committee is an excellent representation of the Council.

New members seated

Curtis Herschleb
Aimee Williams

The Board seated two new members. Curtis Herschleb was appointed by Cordova District Fishermen United to fill the seat held by Patience Andersen Faulkner, who retired this year. Aimee Williams has been appointed by the Kodiak Island Borough to fill the seat previously held by Rebecca Skinner.


News release:

May 2022 Board Officers Press Release (0.5 MB)

Seward community engages with on-water oil spill response training

Seward community members observing vessels pulling oil spill boom. The Council held its fishing vessel oil spill response training observation tour in Seward, Alaska, on April 14, 2022. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, this had been an annual event since 2016, rotating through several communities in the region. The Seward community was invited to join the council from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., on a Major Marine Tours vessel to observe the training.

Seward city clerk, Brenda Ballou, stated about the event, “I’ve been aware of the SERVS training for a long time, but never had the opportunity to actually take part in it or see it. I think it’s fantastic, everybody working together. It really is a service for the whole community.”

The local fishermen participating in the training are contracted by the Ship Escort/Response Vessel System, also known as SERVS, to respond in the event of a Prince William Sound tanker or Valdez Marine Terminal oil spill. SERVS is Alyeska Pipeline Service Company’s oil spill removal organization and coordinates annual spill response exercises in multiple Southcentral Alaska communities, including Seward.

This Council event helps keep communities informed on what oil spill prevention and response measures are in place in Prince William Sound and downstream communities, especially those involving their local fishermen. Seward residents learned about oil spill response technology, tactics and how this program helps Alyeska operate safely in Prince William Sound. Narrators from both the Council and Alyeska were on board to describe the oil spill response resources and tactics used to help participants better understand the training. We would like to thank our partners, Alyeska/SERVS and Major Marine Tours, for helping to support this event.

When asked why it was important for community members to learn about this program, attendee Mead Treadwell said, “I was around during Exxon Valdez and around during the creation of the fisherman’s program. Practice like this is important. It’s an impressive drill.”

While a local 10-year-old participant noted his favorite part was seeing the “giant orange boat” [the M/V Ross Chouest utility tug], others found the key takeaway to be the reassurance the event provided them. Participant Cindy Mans noted, “I’m actually really just encouraged by what I saw and absolutely the idea that the local people have the most invested if something goes wrong. Unfortunately, I view an oil spill as more of a ‘when’ instead of an ‘if.’ If we can keep it as small as possible and the least amount of impact, this is one of the pieces to make that happen.”

Alyeska’s contracted fishing fleet is the backbone of their oil spill response system. It is essential to the system operating as it was designed to do and part of what makes the Prince William Sound system world-class. These contracted vessels and their crews help ensure the most comprehensive response measures are in place for both open water and nearshore resources. A major lesson of the Exxon Valdez spill was that incorporating local mariners into the spill response system helps ensure a quick, efficient and effective response.

Since the inception of SERVS after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Council has been highly supportive of local fishermen and mariners being trained annually with the best available technology to prepare for oil spills. Seward mariners have the most intimate knowledge of, and connection to, the waters near Seward. Their involvement would help protect the most sensitive areas, such as hatcheries and spawning streams, from spilled oil.

The Council has held previous fishing vessel oil spill response training tours in Whittier, Cordova and Homer. The Council hopes that through such programs communities will understand the importance of oil spill prevention and having the most robust response strategies in place in the event of a spill.


News release: 

PWSRCAC Press Release - Seward Fishing Vessel Training Tour (0.5 MB)

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