Changes proposed to Alaska’s regulations on oil spill prevention and response

Photo of Representatives from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and SERVS observing an oil spill exercise in Prince William Sound.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation recently proposed changes to the regulations that govern how oil spills are prevented and cleaned up in Alaska. These changes were open for public comment from November 2021 through January 2022.

Improvements

During its review, the Council noted positive changes, including:

  • increased clarity within regulations,
  • combination of redundant sections, and
  • use of technology to modernize workflow.

Remaining concerns

However, the Council also identified concerns with some of the changes. Among these, the four highest level concerns are:

  1. Reduction in drills and exercises: The proposed changes could potentially reduce the number of oil spill drills and exercises for larger crude operators, such as those in Prince William Sound. These activities are an important part of the prevention and response system. To effectively prevent or clean up a spill, responders must practice ahead of an actual emergency.
  2. Assurance that technology is up to date: Regulations require that modern oil spill technologies are studied and incorporated when plans are updated. Currently, this includes holding a conference to advance this knowledge, but the proposed version removes this requirement.
  3. Notifying citizen councils: The existing regulations require both RCACs (Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet) be notified and receive printed materials during contingency plan renewals, updates, and amendments. That language has been removed, instead noting that “interested stakeholders” will be notified that these materials are available for review by an ADEC listserv.
    While the Council supports electronic distribution, which allows searching, both Councils should continue to be named as recipients required to be notified and receive materials. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the U.S. Congress specifically recognized the RCACs’ special role in reviewing contingency plans within the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. The Alaska Oil Spill Commission similarly recommended integrating the RCACs into a state system of citizen oversight including government agency operations.
  4. Towing equipment for Alaska weather: The proposed regulations would change tow package requirements for tankers calling at the Valdez Marine Terminal. While the adoption of International Maritime Organization standards for emergency towing arrangements is appropriate, regulations should also require that tankers calling at the terminal be able to deploy the arrangement from the bow position in 15 minutes.

Read the Council’s full comments: 

Comments on proposed regulatory revisions to 18 AAC 75, Article 4 (1.6 MB)

 

Important public comment period now open

Tanker in Prince William SoundUpdate: Deadline has passed.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) is proposing changes to regulations that protect Prince William Sound. The comment period began on November 1, 2021 and will end January 31, 2022.

Public input on these changes will be critical. The Council is reviewing the changes and will be sharing information on this public comment period and future changes. Please contact staff member Linda Swiss to be added to the email list.

More information: Public input needed to safeguard Prince William Sound

Potential regulation changes to undergo extended public comment period

Tanker at berth.

Before the state’s oil spill regulations are modified, any proposed changes will undergo an extended public comment period, according to Jason Brune, commissioner for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Beginning last fall, the department asked the public for input on Alaska’s statutes and regulations covering oil spill prevention and response.

Brune joined the Council during a September meeting of the Board of Directors to discuss potential changes from these comments. The Council was encouraged to hear a promise from the commissioner that any proposed changes will be given more than the required 30-day public comment period.

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Council comments on State’s public scoping

The Exxon Valdez oil spill taught many lessons about oil spill prevention and preparedness, such as ensuring responders are better trained ahead of time to use cleanup equipment. The strong rules that resulted from that spill mean better preparedness today.

Yesterday the Council submitted comments on the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s public scoping on the state’s oil spill contingency plans for preventing and cleaning up an oil spill.

“PWSRCAC does not think the regulations are necessarily flawed as they are written. The regulations have proven to be protective of Alaska’s people and environment for decades, and it is critical that the protections written into them not be weakened in any way. It is equally important to maintain transparency, predictability, and specificity required to verify operational needs, which is currently in the  regulations.”

Read the Council’s comments in full:

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