requirements. The space between the inner
and outer hulls of our double hull tankers are
twice the width required by regulation,” says
Daren Beaudo, ConocoPhillips’ director of
media relations and crisis communications,
noting that ConocoPhillips itself does not
operate any vessels in Alaska waters. “The
vessels were designed specifically for the
transport of Alaskan crude oil in partnership
with some of the world’s leading naval archi-
tecture and marine engineering firms.”
The tankers are part of the Trans Alaska
Pipeline System trade, loading crude oil in
the Port of Valdez and most often delivering
to terminals within Puget Sound, Washing-
ton; San Francisco and Los Angeles/Long
Beach, California; and Hawaii.
Spill response equipment and training
programs in Alaska are designed specifically
to operate up to the maximum weather conditions outlined in the contingency plan, Beaudo
explains. Larger response vessels, such as tugs
and barges, are built specifically for Alaska
waters with crews trained to safely operate in a
wide range of conditions.
Nonetheless, USCG occasionally closes
the entrance/exit to Prince William Sound
due to severe weather conditions.
“While our tankers are designed to operate
in far worse conditions, tugs and other support vessels needed during a response could
have a more difficult time safely maneuvering around the tanker in certain conditions.
As a precaution, tanker traffic is restricted
during these specific times,” Beaudo says.
Weathering Alaska’s Weather
Everyone operating in Alaska, from oil spill
response organizations to marine shipping
companies, understands the unique and difficult challenges the state’s weather presents.
“Most of the vessels and personnel on the
water during drill or spill are Alaskan fishing
vessels and fisherman who deal with Alaska’s
weather every day. The larger response vessels such as tugs and barges are built specifically for Alaskan waters with crews who are
trained to safely operate in a wide range of
conditions,” Beaudo says.
Dugan points out that, because weather can
have such an adverse effect on responses, there
is heavy investment in preventative measures.
“Wind and waves can slow vessel speeds
and impact recovery operations, so crews are
trained and equipped to respond in the various conditions found in Prince William Sound
and can adjust tactics if necessary. Fog or darkness, for example, may hinder helicopter overflights of a spill, so the new tugs have onboard
FLIR [forward looking infrared] cameras that
can work in hours of darkness and oil detection radar, which isn’t as impacted by weather,”
Dugan says. “We can have all the response
equipment in the world, but we never want to
have to use it. We want to prevent an oil spill.”
Since the rollback of an export ban in 2016
on crude oil from the United States, including restrictions for Alaska crude oil (which
was one of the few domestic varieties exempt
from the ban), there has been a small increase
in tankers using the Valdez Port.
“The federal export ban was lifted recently
and we’ve seen two or three new tankers in
the system since then,” Dugan says.
Prior to the rollback, exporters were
required under the Jones Act to use vessels
from a small fleet of US-flagged tankers.
However, changes in the restrictions now allow
outside markets, such as the Asian market, to
book sales on foreign-flagged tankers.
Of course, these foreign-flagged tankers
are still required to abide by the stringent
rules and regulations that ensure the safety
of Alaska’s environment. R
Isaac Stone Simonelli is a freelance
journalist and former managing editor for
the Phuket Gazette.
“Prevention is primary: first,
we established the Road to
Zero—a goal of doing zero
harm to people, property, or
the environment. We give
every employee the ability to
stop work if they see anything
they perceived to be unsafe.”
—Paul Manzi, Vice President, Crowley