Tanker escorts for Valdez and Cook Inlet: strikingly different measures in place.

Author:White, Rindi
Position::OIL & GAS


Thousands of gallons of fuel flow up Cook Inlet for use in Alaska's population center and communities beyond each year, while many thousand more of crude oil are carried from the trans Alaska pipeline terminus in Prince William Sound to refineries in Alaska, Washington, California, and Hawaii. No Alaska oil has been exported out of the country since 2004. On each end, safety is paramount, but the safety measures in place are strikingly different.

In Prince William Sound, seventy training drills and exercises happen each year, with cooperation from more than four hundred private fishing vessels and 1,500 fishing crew members. Laden oil tankers are escorted and monitored by two tugs based in Valdez for the sixty-mile journey from Alyeska terminal out of the Sound.

In Cook Inlet, tankers travel to and from Nikiski twice or more a week to haul crude from Alyeska to Tesoro's oil refinery at Nikiski or take its refined products south, and an average of one or more vessels--either tankers or integrated tug/barge vessels--arrive in Anchorage each week to offload fuel. An integrated tug-and-barge system is one in which a tug is affixed to or built on to a fuel-laden barge. The ITB, as they are often called, gets a tug escort from Kenai to Anchorage during the icy winter months.

Although the vessel response system for a spill in Cook Inlet is not nearly as well funded and robust as the response system in Valdez, Cook Inlet Spill Prevention and Response (CISPRI) is ready to move if a spill happens or a fuel-laden vessel needs assistance.

According to its website, CISPRI is a member-owned nonprofit founded by fuel shippers that provides oil spill planning, training, and response services throughout Cook Inlet. Members range from drillers such as Apache Alaska Corporation and Buccaneer Alaska Operations to shippers like Tesoro and Conoco/Phillips. The Kenai Peninsula Borough and the Municipality of Anchorage are also members. The company sponsors regular training events and holds larger drills periodically in Cook Inlet.

Top Response System in the World

Alyeska's Ship Escort/Response Vessel System, or SERVS, was created as part of the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990, passed in response to the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill the year before.

Out of the spill came perhaps the most rigorous oil spill response system in the world. Tanker shipping lanes are continually monitored by the US Coast Guard's Vessel Traffic Service to allow for safe travel...

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