Federal legislation authorizing Coast Guard appropriations for 2010 has a provision expanding the requirement for dual tug escorts of oil tankers traveling through Alaska’s Prince William Sound.
The Coast Guard bill, H.R. 3619, would require that double-hulled tankers, and not just single-hulled ships as the law now specifies, be accompanied by at least two emergency towing vessels.
Supporters of the provision say it’s important because nearly all the tankers carrying North Slope crude oil through the sound today are equipped with double hulls, a result of reforms Congress mandated after the wreck of the single-hulled tanker Exxon Valdez in 1989.
Oil industry watchdogs as well as Alaska’s congressional delegation say they prefer that the oil industry continue with the dual tug escorts, even though the double-hulled tankers are thought to be less vulnerable to oil spills.
Two tugs “will allow for greater redundancy in a place where severe weather and human error can lead to disaster,” said Alaska Republican Congressman Don Young, calling the Exxon Valdez oil spill “the worst tragedy” in state history.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed out the Coast Guard bill on Sept. 24. Young has a seat on the committee.
The dual tug escort language is similar to that in a standalone piece of legislation Alaska’s two senators, Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Mark Begich, introduced on May 14.
That bill, S.1041, isn’t expected to advance. Rather, the two senators are expected to try to insert the tug provision into other legislation, possibly the Senate’s Coast Guard authorization bill.
Escorting each oil-laden tanker with two tugs is expensive, and industry watchdogs with the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council have said they’re worried oil companies might try to eliminate the expense now that the fleet has gone almost exclusively double-hulled.
But oil shippers have insisted they have no immediate plans to drop dual escorts.
The tanker fleet now numbers about 16 ships that regularly call on the oil terminal at Valdez. The bulk of them carry crude for BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil.