Has the last single-hulled tanker exited the Alaska oil trade?
The S/R Long Beach, which carried North Slope crude oil for Exxon Mobil, is “not currently physically located along the West Coast,” Ray Botto, spokesman for Houston-based SeaRiver Maritime Inc., told Petroleum News on June 16.
Botto wouldn’t say whether the ship will ever return to Alaska for another load of oil.
He confirmed media reports that the tanker in late April delivered a cargo of Alaska oil to the LOOP, the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port in the Gulf of Mexico. Normally, tankers in the Alaska trade carry oil from the port of Valdez to refineries in Washington state and California. Speculation was the 987-foot Long Beach could be scrapped.
Botto wouldn’t confirm the ship’s fate.
Mandatory retirementThe Long Beach was built in 1987 and, under the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990 it must cease hauling oil in U.S. waters by Jan. 1, 2010, because it lacks a double hull to reduce the risk of oil spills.
A tanker listing available on the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Web site shows the Long Beach is the last remaining single-hulled tanker in the Alaska trade. Fifteen other ships remain in the trade, including three more SeaRiver tankers that carry oil for Exxon. One of those, the Baytown, isn’t a double-hulled ship but has a double bottom.
OPA 90, which Congress passed after the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in 1989, ushered in a transformation of the Alaska tanker fleet from predominantly single-hulled ships to double hulls.
Two of the major North Slope oil producers, BP and ConocoPhillips, built brand-new fleets of double-hulled tankers. Exxon, however, hasn’t built new ships, choosing instead to use or acquire older double hulls that carry no mandatory retirement date under OPA 90.
Afterlife for old tankersThe overall number of tankers has been declining in recent years as North Slope oil production declines. Production peaked at more than 2.1 million barrels per day in early 1988, but was averaging 635,000 barrels per day through mid-June of this year.
The Long Beach is a sister ship of the single-hulled Exxon Valdez, which Congress banished from Alaska waters following the spill.
SeaRiver’s spokesman, Botto, emphasized the Long Beach “is still fully certified to operate” as an oil tanker. He cited security concerns, including the threat of piracy, in declining to say where the ship is located now, or where it’s headed.
He said options for the Long Beach could include converting it to a double-hulled tanker or retrofitting it for some other use. But saying more about plans for the ship, Botto said, would be “speculative or proprietary.”
The Washington Ecology Department list says no double-hull conversion is planned for the Long Beach.
According to the shipping Web site vesseltracker.com, the Exxon Valdez is now called the Dong Fang Ocean. The ship belongs to Hong Kong Bloom Shipping and operates as an ore carrier under the flag of Panama.