Plankton change with the seasons in Prince William Sound

In this photo, a Council staff member holds a sample, which is green due to the tiny plants, or phytoplankton, in the sample.
Staff member Joe Lally holds a sample collected during the spring phytoplankton bloom.

A new Council study will help improve monitoring for invasive species, such as tunicates, that live on the sea floor or hard surfaces.

Researchers collected samples of zooplankton and used an identification technique called DNA metabarcoding. This technique allows researchers to identify multiple species from the same sample.

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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)

Council supports Alyeska’s appeal to EPA

In late 2020, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company appealed a July 2020 Environmental Protection Agency air quality rule that would regulate emissions from the crude oil storage tanks at the Valdez Marine Terminal.

Alyeska asserted that the new rule would not result in emissions reductions at the terminal, that local residents would not see air quality benefits, and that Alyeska was already controlling air pollution from the storage tanks using optimal methods.

Alyeska noted that the existing control system at the terminal captures 99.94% of all tank vapors, while the reduction goal for the updated rule is 95%.

The Council hired experts at John Beath Environmental to conduct an independent review of Alyeska’s appeal and their assertions, to determine if the Council should support Alyeska’s appeal or not.

The section of the standards being appealed establishes national emission limitations, operating limits, and work practices for major sources of hazardous air pollutants. Hazardous air pollutants can be harmful to human health and include carcinogenic compounds such as benzene, among nearly 200 other harmful compounds.

In addition to verifying Alyeska’s assertions, the review documented how the implementation of the new rule, as written by the EPA, would impact the amount of hazardous air pollutants coming from the terminal.

The Council’s independent review supports the key arguments in Alyeska’s appeal. The design of the existing vapor recovery system already controls vapors better than the alternatives required by the new rule. Imposing the entirety of the new rule at the terminal would not result in overall, local air quality benefits.

The Council will be supporting Alyeska in their appeal by sending a letter and the final report to the Environmental Protection Agency.

A Review of the Appeal to 2020 Updates to 40 CFR 63, Subpart EEEE by Alyeska Pipeline Service Company (11.3 MB)

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