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.


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 

Board of directors meeting in Cordova

The council’s board of directors met in Cordova on September 15 and 16.

Topics on the agenda included:

  • An update on Alyeska’s plan for the transition from Crowley to Edison Chouest
  • The council’s plan to monitor the transition from Crowley to Edison Chouest
  • An update on the renewal of the Prince William Sound oil spill contingency plan for tankers
  • An update on the status of Prince William Sound herring
  • A presentation on requirements for marine vessel pilots in Prince William Sound
  • An update on BP’s use of foreign-flagged vessels in Prince William Sound


Download meeting materials:

New council report: Port of Valdez shrimp found generally safe for consumption

Prince William Sound Shrimp

A new report on the effects of small amounts of hydrocarbons on Port Valdez shrimp is now available. The report was approved by the board of directors during the May board meeting.

News release: 

Are shrimp caught in Port Valdez contaminated by Alaska North Slope crude oil? The council recently worked with scientists at the National Auke Bay Lab in Juneau to answer that question.

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How do you define burdensome?

By Amanda Bauer
Council President

As a personal rule, I try not to get caught up in the words that people choose. But there is one word that has been used so much in conversations about funding for oil spill prevention and response, and when talking about the cost-efficiency of regulations: that word is burdensome.

I would like to tell you about some things I would consider a burden.

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