ANCHORAGE – The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed legislation that would improve oil spill response in Western Alaska as part of an annual authorization bill for the U.S. Coast Guard. Section 510 of H.R. 6865 would establish Western Alaska Oil Spill Planning Criteria, making the process for complying with oil spill response requirements in that area more transparent and predictable by establishing clear rules which ensure robust and strict response standards.
“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,” said Buddy Custard, President and CEO of the Alaska Chadux̂ Network. “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.”
Currently, oil spill response standards in Western Alaska are administered on an ad-hoc basis – known as Alternative Planning Criteria – allowing vessel owners and operators to propose their own standards. Section 510 eliminates these ad hoc planning standards and replaces them with measurable, predictable standards in a number of areas:
- oil spill response resources and response times;
- vessel tracking, monitoring, and routing measures;
- requirements to preposition oil spill resources at strategic locations; and
- preventing double-counting of equipment that is used for other response purposes.
The new standards would not apply in Cook Inlet or Prince William Sound. In addition to industry, the State of Alaska, Alaska Native organizations, and environmental non-governmental organizations must be consulted in developing these standards.
“We are deeply disappointed that requirements for dedicated response vessels and to provide for wildlife protection and rehabilitation were removed from this bill language,” Mr. Custard also remarked. “We hope those provisions can be added back into the bill later in the legislative process as well as language regarding the use of resources that can be timely delivered for arrival on the scene of a spill.”
The “Don Young Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022” was named in honor of the late Congressman Don Young. It will be a deserving tribute to his long service to Alaska and his contributions in crafting the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.
The Alaska Chadux̂ Network is an industry-led and funded 501(c)(4) nonprofit oil spill response organization headquartered in Anchorage, Alaska, and has operated in Alaska since 1993. Alaska Chadux̂ maintains 17 response-ready equipment hubs throughout Southcentral and Western Alaska and has developed extensive preparedness measures to help its members across Alaska transport, transfer, and store petroleum products safely.