Tim Robertson: Real-life experiences improve oil spill response

Volunteer Spotlight

Photo of Tim Robertson on a small motorized boat on the ocean with a rocky coast in the background.
Tim Robertson is a member of the Council’s Oil Spill Prevention & Response Committee. The committee works to minimize the risk and impacts associated with oil transportation through research, advice, and recommendations for strong and effective spill prevention and response measures, contingency planning, and regulations.

Growing up in western North Carolina, over 3,000 miles away from Alaska, Tim Robertson and his brothers Roy and Andy knew all about the 49th state. His dad was obsessed.

“If there was a TV show or a movie or anything about Alaska, he drug the whole family to see it,” Robertson says. All three brothers ended up moving here.

These days Tim splits his time between Alaska and Hawaii. At first glance, it might seem like the two states are very different, but Tim’s values are present in both.

“I’m a small-boat guy on big water,” he says. “There’s the same connection with the ocean. A lot of mornings I watch the sun rise from the water. It’s a big part of what I am.”

Robertson spent his first few years in Alaska working in an oil-related field, first as a research biologist for Alaska Department of Fish and Game, then for an oil field service company.

He dreamt of a different career though. Robertson acquired land in Seldovia in 1985, and partnered with another family to build Harmony Point Wilderness Lodge, an ecotourism business. They had only been in business a few short years when the Exxon Valdez ran aground.

“The first time I ever heard of ICS [Incident Command System] was when we had a community meeting after the spill,” says Robertson.

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Workshop: Tsunami hazards guidance for vessel operators

The Council is partnering with the City of Valdez to hold a workshop to further our understanding of the risks posed to vessel operators by tsunamis, including those generated by landslides.

Participants will represent a diversity of vessel operators, emergency managers, and researchers studying the subject. A portion of this workshop will take place with Stan Stephens Cruises, traveling through Prince William Sound, with a visit to the world-famous Columbia Glacier.

Based on workshop results, we will develop a report detailing preliminary guidance for vessel operators facing the threat of a tsunami and a list of research topics that could improve future guidance. The proposed guidance will be designed to be applicable in Prince William Sound and similar areas that have complex steep shorelines, and which face the potential of landslide-generated tsunamis.

This workshop will be held in Valdez on June 3rd and 4th, 2024.

Registration

Registration is now open: Register for Tsunami Hazards in Prince William Sound – Workshop for Vessel Operators

Lodging

The Totem Inn is offering a limited number of rooms at a reduced rate for workshop participants. These rooms can be booked by calling the hotel directly: 907-835-4443 or toll Free: 1-888-808-4431 Please note that you are attending the Tsunami Workshop at the time you book your room.

Questions

For more information, please email Nelli Vanderburg.

About the Exxon Valdez oil spill

Exxon Valdez tanker leaking oil in Prince William Sound, April 13, 1989. Photo by Charles N. Ehler. Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Collection, ARLIS. ARLIS’ EVOS photos

On March 24, 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on a charted rock, Bligh Reef, in Prince William Sound. The grounding occurred after the vessel left the designated tanker lanes to avoid icebergs reported to be in the area.

The tanker spilled an estimated 11 million gallons (257,000 barrels) of Alaska North Slope crude oil, enough to fill 17 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Below are some of our recommended resources on the history of the spill.

What happened?

The executive summary of the Alaska Oil Spill Commission’s Final Report “Spill, the Wreck of the Exxon Valdez” has a synopsis of the incident and their investigation, which includes details about what went wrong. See also: Full report and appendices (Alaska Resources Library & Information Services (ARLIS) website)

Stats and FAQs:

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council (EVOSTC):

The Alaska Resources Library & Information Services (ARLIS) has an extensive collection, including some unique resources such as trial transcripts and audio recordings:

Photo collections:

Lessons learned:

Then & Now: 35 Years After the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill – This report reviews both what changes have been made since the spill and what’s left to improve.

The Spill: Personal Stories from the Exxon Valdez Disaster – This book features interviews with over 60 people who experienced the spill first-hand. They include Alaska citizens; government agency personnel involved with the spill and cleanup; elected officials who dealt with the spill; and oil industry personnel involved in the spill and cleanup. Contact the Council for a free copy: info@pwsrcac.org

History of Alaska’s Oil Spill Response Planning Standard – This report documents the history and intent behind Alaska’s standard for spill response plans.

History of the oil spill prevention and contingency plan in Prince William Sound – This report details how planning has improved since 1989, describes contentious issues and how they were resolved, notes significant trends, and documents remaining issues. The report also documents changes to the regulations and how regulations have been interpreted at different times.

Exxon Valdez Project Jukebox – The Council worked with the University of Alaska Fairbanks to archive this collection of audio and video interviews of people who experienced the spill firsthand. (UAF website)

Stories from a Citizens’ Council – This publication contains personal reflections on the formation and early years of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council.

More questions?

We are happy to help find additional information, please contact us:

General questions and requests: info@pwsrcac.org

Media requests: Please contact the Council’s Director of Communications.

Educators: Please check out the Council’s Alaska Oil Spill Lesson Bank (free lesson plans for hands-on learning which meet applicable NGSS) or email the Council’s Outreach Coordinator.

Board of Directors met in Anchorage

The Council held a Board meeting in Anchorage on Thursday and Friday, January 25-26, 2024.

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, including an update on Alyeska’s efforts to address concerns identified in the Council’s report “Assessment of Risks and Safety Culture at the Valdez Marine Terminal.”
  • A presentation from Alaska Tanker Company on upgrades and changes to their Alaska fleet.
  • Introduction and discussions with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Designee, Emma Pokon.
  • A report on the results from the Council’s Long-Term Environmental Monitoring Program, now in its 30th year, analyzing mussels, marine sediment and passive sampling devices to monitor oil contamination associated with operation of the Valdez Marine Terminal and associated tankers.
  • A briefing from Council staff on the renewal of Alyeska’s Valdez Marine Terminal Oil Discharge Prevention and Contingency Plan, including comments submitted by the Council to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation in December 2023.
  • A presentation on the recent Hope Spot designation for Prince William Sound by the Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation.
  • A presentation on the Shepard Point Marine Tribal Transportation Oil Spill and Marine Casualty Response Facility by the Native Village of Eyak.
  • Consideration by the Council to create a designated recreation seat on the Board and appointment of a new director to fill the seat, should it be approved.

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

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