Congress passes legislation in effort to improve oil spill response in Western Alaska

Published: May. 8, 2022 at 3:09 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Legislation by Congress was passed on March 29 with the goal of improving oil spill response in Western Alaska.

The Alaska Chadux̂ Network issued a press release praising the passage of House Resolution 6865, which was named the “Don Young Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022.”

President and CEO of the Alaska Chadux̂ Network Buddy Custard said believes that the bill will have a positive impact by enacting clear rules for the standards of response in Western Alaska.

The release said that oil spill response standards in Western Alaska are currently administered on a need by need basis, which allows vessel owners and operators to operate under their own standards.

The passage of the legislation establishes measurable standards, which include vessel tracking, monitoring, requirements to preposition oil spill resources at strategic locations; and preventing double-counting of equipment that is used for other response purposes.

“The oil spill response system in Western Alaska is broken, and Section 510 of H.R. 6865 is an excellent start on a solution to fix it,” Custard said in the release. “Standards for oil spill response that work in the Lower 48 don’t translate well to Alaska. The vast distance challenges, lack of infrastructure, and harsh weather call for a different set of criteria appropriate to meet the demands of our unique environment and protect it long-term.”

Custard said in an interview that he feels oil spill rules for the Western portion of the state have become inconsistent, and said that he wants to see the same standards in the Lower 48 applied to Alaska, but catered to the unique landscape.

“Living up here, the vast distances, I mean it’s huge and then the lack of infrastructure, and then the other challenge we have is the weather, as you know. In the marine environment it’s very unforgiving out there so we just want to make sure that the standards that we want to see developed can meet these challenges that are fitted for Alaska,” said Custard.

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez spilled over 11 million gallons of Alaskan crude into the water of Prince William Sound. Afterward, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was created. However, many things in that act could not be predicted, such as shipping and trade. Custard said that due to ice receding in the Arctic, this created more open water and trade routes creating more risk of oil spills.

“Its important that everybody has the same standards that they’re working with then so that we all understand what is the goal of how to best protect Alaska. And if we all work together on that we’ll be able to build a very good system that’s just as good as what you’re seeing in Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet to be able to protect the rest of Alaska and I think that’s what everybody’s goal wants to be at the end of the day,” Custard said.

The new standards are separate from those established elsewhere in Alaska and do hot have authority in not Cook Inlet or Prince William Sound. The Alaska Chadux̂ Network said in the release that that in addition to industry, the state of Alaska, Alaska Native organizations, and environmental non-governmental organizations must be consulted when these standards are developed.

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