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)

Prince William Sound is home to a variety of bird species in winter

Frigid Alaska winters can be a tough time and place for wildlife. Food is scarce, the climate can be extreme, and days are short. Many species of birds head south.

However, some hardier species, such as marbled murrelets, common murres, pelagic cormorants, black-legged kittiwakes, and glaucous-winged gulls tough it out over the winter.

Since 2007, Dr. Mary Anne Bishop, a research ecologist at the Prince William Sound Science Center, has surveyed the Sound in fall and winter to document these bird species. This work is done on behalf of Gulf Watch Alaska, an ecosystem monitoring program funded by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. The Trustee Council documents the recovery of wildlife species after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The Council recently worked with Dr. Bishop and Anne Schaefer, the Center’s avian research assistant, to expand the survey area. The Council needed to know if marine birds congregated in areas around the Valdez Marine Terminal and near the tanker lanes. If a spill were to occur, these are the most likely areas for oil to come ashore.

Quick protection if a spill happens

When creating oil spill contingency plans, it is important to know where critical habitats are located. Plans can be created ahead of time that will help responders act fast to protect these areas before they are damaged.

The researchers noted specific areas to safeguard including Port Etches and Zaikof Bay near Hinchinbrook Entrance, the head of Port Valdez between the Valdez container terminal and the Valdez Glacier stream, and in southeastern Port Fidalgo.

This was the first of three years proposed for this study. The report notes that it is difficult to draw conclusions from a single year, because composition and density of birds can vary during the overwintering, non-breeding season.

The results of the survey will be available through the Alaska Ocean Observing System.

More information is available in the full report:

Marine Winter Bird Surveys In Prince William Sound (9.0 MB)

How has subsistence harvest changed over time in the Exxon Valdez oil spill region?

This graphic image demonstrates how the number of different resources harvested by the average household decreased over time. In 2003, 21 different types of resources were harvested. In 2014, the average household harvested just 13 different types. Data compiled from five Alaska communities: Tatitlek, Cordova, Chenega, Port Graham, and Nanwalek.
Image of the word subsistence, which is defined in the image caption.
A way of life that includes the harvest and use of wild resources for food, raw materials, and other traditional uses. Subsistence has been a central part of the customs and traditions of many cultural groups in Alaska for centuries. Download the report: Recovery Of A Subsistence Way Of Life (PDF) or the report summary: Study Overview – Recovery Of A Subsistence Way Of Life (PDF)

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

This graphic image demonstrates how the number of different resources harvested by the average household decreased over time. In 2003, 21 different types of resources were harvested. In 2014, the average household harvested just 13 different types. Data compiled from five Alaska communities: Tatitlek, Cordova, Chenega, Port Graham, and Nanwalek. 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:

Download the report summary:

Study Overview - Recovery Of A Subsistence Way Of Life (1.0 MB)

Download the full report:

Recovery Of A Subsistence Way Of Life (2.9 MB)

New weather buoys establish PORTS® information for Valdez, Alaska

Collaboration promotes navigation safety and protection of coastal marine resources

Photo of new buoy deployed in 2019.
Buoy off Jackson Point in Port Valdez with the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company’s Valdez Marine Terminal in the background.

The Council has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish PORTS® information for Valdez, Alaska. PORTS® (Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System) improves the safety and efficiency of maritime commerce and coastal resource management by providing real-time environmental observations, forecasts and other geospatial information to mariners. To help bring this resource to Valdez, the Council is streaming data from two new weather buoys to PORTS®.

In 2019, the Council worked with regional partners to deploy two buoys in Port Valdez; one off Jackson Point at the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company’s Valdez Marine Terminal and one near the Valdez Duck Flats. These buoys collect data to improve understanding of the meteorological and physical oceanographic environment at the terminal and Duck Flats.

The objectives of the PORTS® program are to promote navigation safety, improve the efficiency of U.S. ports and harbors and ensure the protection of coastal marine resources. The Council is mandated by Congress to study wind and water currents and other environmental factors in the vicinity of the Alyeska terminal which may affect the ability to prevent, respond to, contain and clean up an oil spill. The Council works with industry and regulators to ensure response readiness, evaluate risks and propose solutions. Allowing these weather buoys to integrate with PORTS® furthers these efforts while also meeting the system’s objectives.

“While the Council’s sole purpose for installing these buoys is to promote the environmentally safe operation of the Valdez Marine Terminal and associated tankers, we believe the integration of this metocean data into NOAA’s PORTS® will benefit and improve safety for a variety of other maritime users,” said Donna Schantz, executive director for the Council. “This is another excellent example of how collaborative science can have wide-ranging impacts for the betterment of all.”

Data from the buoys is already being provided to the Alaska Ocean Observing System. AOOS is a network that consolidates critical ocean and coastal weather observations and related information products. By monitoring the state’s coastlines and ocean waters, AOOS helps provide the information needed by residents to make better decisions concerning their use of the marine environment.

“This new system, and the others like them around the country, reduce ship accidents by more than 50 percent, increase the size of ships that can get in and out of seaports, and reduce traffic delays,” said Steven Thur, Ph.D., acting deputy director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service. “They also provide real-time, resilience-ready data as coastal conditions rapidly change, potentially threatening our coastal communities.”

The buoys were made possible through donations from Fairweather Science and partnerships with the Prince William Sound Science Center, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, the City of Valdez and Valdez Fisheries Development Association. The installation has been permitted by several agencies and cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company has allowed the Council access into the marine security zone that borders the terminal.

The Council has a direct interest in the successful operation and maintenance of weather buoys and stations installed in Prince William Sound because weather affects safe oil transportation and spill response.

Skip to content