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.
The Exxon Valdez oil spill changed the harvest and use of wild resources in Southcentral Alaska. Various anecdotal reasons such as concerns about oil contamination meant folks were hesitant to use these traditional resources.
The Council recently partnered with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Subsistence to study and document why and how the spill affected subsistence harvesting activities, both immediately after the spill and in the years since.
Fish and Game researchers analyzed data collected from the communities of Cordova, Chenega, Tatitlek, Port Graham, and Nanwalek from 1984 to 2014.
That data confirmed that harvesting decreased during the first few years after the spill, but numbers started recovering around two to three years after the spill. Overall, the rates increased steadily through the 1990s and into the 2000s. By 2014, however, two important facts became apparent.
Reduced diversity of harvested species
Harvesters collect fewer types of resources than before the spill. Fortunately, the surveys tracked more than just numbers. Interviews with residents pointed to several causes, which changed over time.
While the drop immediately after the 1989 spill was mainly attributed to concerns about safety, this was less of a concern in more recent years. Among other causes, interviewees blamed overharvesting by both locals and hunters from outside the community.
A Nanwalek elder interviewed in 2014 noted that easy-to-access locations suffered the most. “Some people don’t have boats so they can’t go too far,” the elder told the surveyors. “They don’t even give ‘em a chance to get bigger.”
Fewer households harvesting more of the resources
Another discovery is that harvesting activities have become more concentrated. In later years, a smaller proportion of households harvested a relatively larger proportion of the resources.
For example, data for sockeye salmon harvests in Tatitlek shows that in 1987, the top 1/3 of the harvesters collected about 55% of the combined total. In 2014, the top 1/3 collected over 90%.
Sometimes those harvests are not shared with the community.
“The oil spill in one way was worse for subsistence and traditional community culture because it gave everyone money, and this gave them the ability for each individual to have their own boat motor,” noted an elder from Nanwalek in 2014. “Lots of people ended up doing subsistence only for themselves and overall, people shared [a lot] less together.”
How does this information help?
This project is helping the Council assess the potential long-term social consequences of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and other factors that may affect subsistence harvests in the spill-affected region. These effects are critical to document to help plan and be prepared in case of a future oil spill.
More about this report:
Watch a presentation by the researchers on our YouTube channel:
A new study evaluating methods of establishing tow lines between an escort tug and a tanker in distress is a prime example of why the Council’s studies are vital.
The Council often hires experts to review equipment technology used in the Prince William Sound oil transportation industry. Sometimes these studies fill a hole or gap where independent research is lacking.
“Very little has been previously written on this topic,” said Alan Sorum, who managed this project and other similar technology reviews for the Council. “In a literature review it conducted, the Council’s contractor, Glosten, found that there is a general lack of published material on this subject and in particular, little guidance on best use practices or what is the most appropriate device to use for a given situation.”
The study looked at a specific piece of equipment called a “messenger line.” Passing a messenger line is the first step in setting up a tow line between a tug and a tanker in distress. The lighter weight messenger line helps responders connect the heavy tow lines.
Retrieving a messenger line can be difficult and dangerous in the rough weather often encountered in Prince William Sound. Depending on the vessel and the technology on board, they may be passed by hand, heaved or thrown aboard, projected by mechanical means, or picked out of the water.
Tough equipment required for Alaska’s harsh climate
Alaska has a state law that requires tankers to carry specially designed towing equipment when traveling through Prince William Sound. This equipment includes a towing wire, floating line and buoy, and a heavy-duty shackle.
These components are all specifically sized to match the weight of the vessel and be able to handle the high winds and seas often encountered in Prince William Sound.
Having this specialized equipment on hand allows rescue tugs to quickly and safely help move a stricken tanker to a safer location.
Conducting the study
Researchers reviewed what devices are commercially available for deploying messenger lines. Next, they developed criteria to evaluate the equipment according to: effectiveness, feasibility, transferability, compatibility, age and condition, availability, environmental impacts, and cost.
These eight criteria were based on another Alaska law, which requires industry to use “best available technology.” This requirement is intended to ensure that equipment meets and is maintained to a high standard.
The equipment options were each assessed and scored.
How will the Council use this information on tow lines?
The Council’s influence depends on quality, accurate research. The Council uses reports like this to help make sure advice given to industry and government officials is well-informed and supported by the best science available. The findings of this latest research effort are being shared with equipment manufacturers, the oil transportation and shipping industries, and regulators.