Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
February 2016

Vol. 21, No. 6 Week of February 07, 2016

Planning for oil spill food safety

Inter-agency working group takes first steps in developing policy for inclusion in Alaska’s offshore oil spill response planning


Petroleum News

With no formal policy guidance in Alaska’s unified oil spill response plan for how to deal with food safety and security following an offshore oil spill, a working group from several federal and state agencies has been evaluating what needs to go into a food safety plan for the state, the Alaska Regional Response Team heard during its meeting on Jan. 27.

“There isn’t a unified plan for food safety and security in Alaska,” Doug Helton, the working group’s leader from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told the ARRT members. There are food safety plans for other regions of the United States, but those plans are not applicable in Alaska’s unique circumstances, Helton said.

The idea behind having a food safety plan is to figure out in advance what food resources require protection and what steps would have to be taken to deal with food safety issues, in the event of an offshore oil spill, rather than depending on the improvisation of plans after a spill has occurred.

The Alaska Regional Response Team working group has completed a draft scoping document for a food safety policy and has published the document on the ARRT website at alaskarrt.org.

Commercial and subsistence resources

Helton said that most food safety plans focus on commercially harvested seafood, including fish and shellfish. And an offshore oil spill in Alaska waters would cause disruption to commercial fishing and shellfish harvesting, he said. But a major issue for Alaska is the dependence of many communities on the subsistence harvesting of wild foods, including marine mammals, seabirds, intertidal plants and terrestrial plants. Wild species are also harvested for sport in Alaska.

Cut off their primary food supply, and rural communities cannot simply go to the local grocery store to replenish their larders, Helton said.

And subsistence resources are used, not just for food, but as part of a cultural tradition that includes trade; barter; community building; arts and crafts; and medicine, he said.

The proposed content of a food security plan, as published in the working group’s draft document, would have the plan address both the commercial and the subsistence issues. Drawing on experience from a number of actual offshore oil spills, the plan would set out a series of possible actions and countermeasures that could be invoked to assure food safety.

But there remains much ground to cover in formulating the specifics of a plan.

“The path forward is still to be determined,” Helton said.

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