Do you know if you or your community is prepared to advocate for themselves in the case of an oil spill? The Council recently developed resources to support affected stakeholders during such an event.
The new toolkit was designed to support citizens who would participate in a process known as a Regional Stakeholder Committee. However, some of the tools would be useful for anyone affected by an oil spill.
What’s in the toolkit?
The resources include helpful content such as:
A template to help capture important details during a briefing by response leaders
A list of potential stakeholder concerns
Ideas for available resources that may help support the response
The kit also includes some basic information about the spill response system in Alaska and how an oil spill response is organized.
A recent study of operations and maintenance of Alyeska’s cathodic protection system found that the program was “very good;” however improvements are still needed.
National Pipeline Services, a consulting company that specializes in cathodic protections, conducted the study for the Council. They looked specifically at the systems that prevent corrosion in the metal piping that carries crude oil through the terminal to the large oil storage tanks.
The researchers based their report on a review of documents, procedures, testing, and results from previous inspections of those systems.
The final report summarized the systems currently in use at the terminal, as well as Alyeska’s methods for monitoring and testing the systems.
The researchers concluded that overall, it appears Alyeska has a “very good corrosion and cathodic protection program.” The procedures for operating and monitoring the system are adequate and within standard industry practices and Federal guided requirements.
The report also noted that certain improvements could further reduce the risk of a crude oil spill, such as ensuring data collection procedures are adequately implemented. Data used to ensure that the crude oil piping’s cathodic protection system is operating effectively does not appear to have been collected properly.
The researchers commended Alyeska on their use of remote monitoring systems, which continuously monitor and evaluate the systems. They added that Alyeska’s annual reporting for integrity management is exceptional and well documented.
Oil spill unlikely as long as planned repairs are not delayed further
Last year, COVID-19 delayed planned repairs to one of the large crude oil storage tanks at the Valdez Marine Terminal. Alyeska rescheduled those repairs for 2023. A recent Council study found that, as long as these repairs are not delayed any longer than 2023, a spill is unlikely.
Taku Engineering, an engineering firm with expertise in tank and piping inspections, assessing and controlling corrosion, and cathodic protection conducted the tank inspection review for the Council. Taku’s engineers analyzed Alyeska’s documentation of inspections and maintenance for Tank 8 located within the East Tank Farm at the Valdez Marine Terminal.
2019 inspection raised concerns
After some concerning findings during a 2019 inspection of the inside of Tank 8, Alyeska planned to replace the tank floor and cathodic protection system. The repairs were scheduled for 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed those major repairs. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation extended the deadline for completion to 2023. The tank will then be removed from service and repairs made.
Council conducted study to minimize risk of oil spills
Taku’s report concluded that the immediate risk of a leak from Tank 8 between now and 2023 is low. The engineers made several recommendations that would help ensure that a spill remains unlikely. They found that an unmaintained seal around the perimeter of the tank allowed rain and snow melt to migrate and accumulate under the tank’s floor. Under certain circumstances, this could lead to damage. Taku recommended that Alyeska maintain the seal so water cannot cause these problems.
Taku also found that some of the cathodic protection system testing data was inadequate. That data is used to ensure that the system is operating effectively, safeguarding the tank’s floor from corrosion.
Oil spill contingency plans are helpful guides for physically preventing and cleaning up spills. However, as Alaskans learned after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, they are not designed to help people who live in the affected communities. These residents need help to understand, manage, and recover from the social and economic consequences of a technological disaster, such as an oil spill.
In the early 1990s, the Council developed a guide to help fill this need. “Coping with Technological Disasters – A User-Friendly Guidebook” can help individuals and communities deal with the disruptions brought by a technological disaster.
This past year an update to the guide was completed.
What is a technological disaster?
A technological disaster is a catastrophic event caused by humans which often results in toxic contamination of the environment. The effects are different than a natural disaster.
How does a technological disaster compare to a natural disaster?
A natural disaster tends to create a “therapeutic” community. People pull together to help each other recover from disasters such as tornados, floods, or earthquakes.
A technological disaster can have a corrosive effect on a community. Residents of an affected area may experience a range of disruptions in their communities, affecting family, friends, and work. These effects can be both visible and invisible. The conflict, tension, fear, and extended litigation can result in long-term psychological stress.
The most obvious and tangible disruptions occur to the ordinary flow of goods, services, and jobs.
For example, the 1989 spill created thousands of high-paid jobs in cleanup work. As a result, ordinary employers in communities—local businesses, Native corporations, and city governments—lost workers and found it even harder to function normally during the crisis.
These visible disruptions can usually be restored in a reasonable length of time.
More difficult to restore is the damage to mental and physical health of residents. These issues are harder to identify and can last a long time. Because they are hard to see, they are often ignored or misunderstood.
Studies showed that mental health impacts persisted decades after the Exxon Valdez spill. These effects disrupted families and led to family violence, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, and psychological impairment, lingering for decades.
The effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on the people of Port Graham
“Our people get sick. Elders and children in the village, workers on the beaches, lots of sickness this year; stomachaches, head pain, bad colds.
We hardly talk to each other anymore. Everybody is touchy. Everybody is ready to jump on you and blame you.
People are angry and afraid, afraid and confused. Our elders feel helpless. They cannot work. They can’t work on the cleanup. They cannot do all the activities of gathering food and preparing for the winter.
And most of all, they cannot teach their young ones the Native way. How will the children learn the values and the ways if the water is dead? Very afraid if the water is dead. If the water is dead, maybe we are dead, our heritage, our tradition, our ways of life and living and relating to nature and to each other.”
– Walter Meganack, Sr
Port Graham, Alaska
June 26, 1989
Update incorporates new knowledge
After the 1989 spill, Dr. Steve Picou, a sociologist from the University of South Alabama, brought his research team to Cordova to study the impacts. They interviewed residents about their experiences and used the results to develop the first version of this guide.
In the years since Dr. Picou’s study, the guidebook was used to aid communities dealing with various disasters, including the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Many lessons were learned along the way. The updated guidebook incorporates new strategies based on events and recent scientific research.
The guidebook was revised based on the input of many contributors including Council volunteers Patience Andersen Faulkner, Dr. Jeffrey Brooks, and leadership from Dr. Davin Holen from Alaska Sea Grant.