Major spill response drill held at Valdez oil terminal

A two-day oil spill containment and cleanup drill at the Valdez Marine Terminal took place June 12-13.

Spill response crews practiced dealing with a simulated 90,000 barrel spill during crude oil loading at the Valdez terminal, Coast Guard Lt. Allie Ferko said.

This is considered a “worst case” for a loading accident at the terminal, Ferko said.

The U.S. Coast Guard and Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. led the exercise.

Spill drills organized by the Coast Guard and oil shippers must be held periodically at Valdez and Prince William Sound under terms of the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990, enacted after the 1989 grounding of the tanker Exxon Valdez on a reef in the sound.

The accident resulted in an 11 million gallon spill, the worst in U.S. history until the BP Macondo well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Ferko said the first day of the exercise tested operations at an incident command center in Valdez involving industry and government officials.

The second day, June 13, involved vessels in the Port of Valdez deploying containment boom and oil recovery equipment, she said.

Fifteen fishing vessels from Valdez will participate in the exercise in the deployment of boom and equipment on the water. Those vessels are normally gearing up for summer commercial salmon fishing but are also under contract to Alyeska to aid in a spill response, and also participate in drills for training, Ferko said.

Scott Hicks, Alyeska’s Valdez Marine Terminal director, said “Alyeska makes a significant investment in emergency preparedness and our employees train year-around to respond.

“Large-scale exercises like this drill require months to plan in close collaboration with the Coast Guard, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the city of Valdez.”

Ferko said a second major drill planned in October will simulate a spill from a disabled tanker in Prince William Sound itself. ConocoPhillips, a major oil shipper from Valdez, will be the industry partner in that exercise, she said.

The response drill requirements imposed by Congress resulted from major criticisms of Alyeska over lack of preparedness for a major spill when the Exxon Valdez accident occurred in 1989.

There was a long delay in mobilization at the Valdez terminal to get spill containment equipment around a pool of oil leaking from the disabled tanker.

Had the equipment been mobilized in time, while there was good weather, the spread of the Exxon Valdez oil could have been reduced, state officials said following the 1989 event.

As it happened, by the time Alyeska mobilized, the weather had deteriorated resulting in oil being spread widely across the sound and into the Gulf of Alaska.

State laws passed after the 1989 grounding require oil shippers and Alyeska to be able to contain and clean up a worst-case spill in 72 hours.

Tim Bradner can be reached at tim.bradner@alaskajournal.com.

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