PWSRCAC pushes revised weather rules for PWS tanker operations
During its Jan. 18 meeting the board of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council unanimously passed a resolution stating that oil tankers and their escort tugs should not be permitted to cross Prince William Sound and enter the Gulf of Alaska in weather conditions deemed unsafe for tanker escort training. Either some training should take place in conditions close to the current weather limits or, presumably, the weather criteria should be lowered to a level where training can be conducted.
Tugs escort the tankers, to provide assistance should a tanker encounter difficulties during its passage of the sound. Escort tug training involves exercises such as attaching a tow line to a tanker while at sea and towing a tanker.
The weather limitIn the interests of safety, tankers are not currently permitted to cross the sound in wind strengths in excess of 45 knots and seas of more than 15 feet. However, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., operator of the Valdez Marine Terminal, does not conduct training exercises for the tanker escort tugs in conditions of this severity - the company’s perspective is that, while tankers and their escorts can safely ply the waters of the sound in conditions up to the prescribed limit, conducting training drills in these conditions poses an unwarranted safety risk.
But PWSRCAC argues that escort vessels need training and experience in the complete range of weather conditions that may be encountered during a tanker transit emergency.
“If it is unsafe to train personnel, it is unsafe to transport oil,” said PWSRCAC board President Amanda Bauer. “This position does not just apply to the incoming contractor, but sets the standard to which the council feels all future new contractors, equipment and crews should be held. We believe strongly that these standards are needed to ensure the economic and environmental safety of the communities and groups we represent.”
PWSRCAC Executive Director Donna Schantz also argued that training exercises can be stopped, if crews and vessels are judged to be in danger.
“We agree with industry and regulators that crew safety is the first priority,” said Schantz. “We believe that drills and exercises, including in adverse weather, are controlled events, as they can be stopped at any time that the risk to crews or vessels becomes unacceptably high.”
Alyeska responseMichelle Egan, Alyeska’s corporate communications director, told Petroleum News in a Jan. 22 email that Alyeska shares the PWSRCAC’s commitment to protecting the environment but strongly disagrees with requiring demonstrations of escort tug tasks in uncontrolled and potentially dangerous conditions.
“It is entirely inconsistent with a strong safety and risk management culture and not an accepted or proven training method for operational proficiency,” Egan wrote. “There are many ways to demonstrate the competency and proficiency of crews and vessels that don't create the level of risk to human life and the environment that the RCAC is promoting.”
- ALAN BAILEY