The Alaska State government has an incredible responsibility to protect Alaska and Alaskans from oil spills and leaks. The state often says “trust us” we are doing enough. The state is re-doing the regulations on oil spill prevention and response and Inletkeeper has some concerns mostly on what actions the state isn’t taking to protect Cook Inlet.
The changes that concern Inletkeeper were highlighted by the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council (PWSRCAC) (celebrating 32 years of protecting the Sound from an Exxon Valdez type of accident ever again). PWSRCAC pointed out that the proposed regulations would limit the state’s ability to conduct oil spill drills and exercises, the state should continue to uphold a commitment to the best available technology for oil spill prevention and response, and that the RCACs must be provided the documentation necessary to continue to be an important safeguard for Alaska.
And some of the things that remain unchanged are also concerning. Primarily, the lack of tanker escorts in Cook Inlet, the history of spills in Cook Inlet, and Hilcorp’s blatant disregard for following permits and requirements.
And one of the things PWSRCAC has ensured happens in the Sound is a tanker escort system. This ensures that anytime an oil-laden tanker travels through the Sound and the Gulf of Alaska two tugs accompany that ship. These tugs monitor conditions, alert the tanker of problems before they occur, quickly assist a disabled tanker, and can immediately start cleanup if there is a spill. Yet Cook Inlet still has no requirements for tug escorts. Inletkeeper has highlighted this inadequacy for years and continued to remind the state that Cook Inlet has luckily escaped disaster with the laden Seabulk Pride running ashore in February 2006. Dropping and dragging an anchor hoping that the laden tanker will stop before there is a disaster is not a solution; Nor is deploying a tug (not designed for this purpose) from Nikiski or Homer to reach the vessel hours later. The state keeps assuring the public that it will be fine when we have a runaway tanker in Cook Inlet. The state either needs to present the evidence that supports this assertion or follow the best practices to protect Cook Inlet with tug escorts.
Cook Inlet has a long history of spills from oil and gas operations in state waters. Over the last 25 years there have been 694 reported spills from offshore drilling activities resulting in 7,980 gallons of spilled crude oil and 35 gallons of extremely hazardous substances. Over the last 8 years Hilcorp (the largest company in Cook Inlet) has reported 99 spills – 38 crude oil spills of more than 10,305 gallons, 21 spills of 3,233 gallons of hazardous substances, and 30 spills of 1,254 gallons of non-crude oil.
The state must retain strong enforcement power with fines or other penalties in the case of noncompliance with vital oil spill prevention and response requirements. We have asked the state to strengthen our protections in Cook Inlet and now we wait to see if the State will step up in the final regulations or weaken our protections selling out to Outside oil companies.
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