The transition of marine services for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.’s Valdez oil terminal from Crowley Marine Corp. to Edison Chouest Offshore is moving ahead steadily, Mike Day, Alyeska marine services transition manager, told the board of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council on Jan. 18. Five of 13 new vessels being built for the transition have now been launched, with three of these vessels now undergoing sea trials and commissioning, Day said. Training for Edison Chouest crews is also well underway, he said.
Alyeska’s Ship Escort/Response Vessel System, known as SERVS, manages the marine services, which provide tug assistance for tankers berthing at the Valdez Marine Terminal, as well as supporting oil spill prevention and contingency plans for the terminal and the tanker operations. As part of the spill prevention program, tugs escort tankers through the Valdez Narrows at the entrance to Port Valdez, and across Prince William Sound between Port Valdez and the Gulf of Alaska. Edison Chouest is scheduled to take over the services on July 1.
The marine terminal is located at the southern terminus of the trans-Alaska pipeline and is the facility through which North Slope oil is loaded onto tankers for export from Alaska.
A major projectThe marine transition is a huge, complex project: Edison Chouest is building five new tugs, purpose designed for escorting tankers; four general purpose tugs; and four new barges, purpose built for oil spill response. The company is also going to bring one of its existing general purpose tugs to Valdez. The project requires training for the Edison Chouest crews, and demonstrations that the new vessels can perform their required tasks in the challenging sea conditions of Prince William Sound and the Port of Valdez.
With new vessels and substantial new oil spill response equipment, the oil spill contingency plans both for the terminal and for the tanker traffic have to be changed and then approved by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. ADEC will also need to verify that the new vessels can meet required performance standards, in conjunction with plan approval.
SERVS anticipates the end result being the implementation of modern vessels and equipment as replacements for the current aging inventory. The new barges, for example, will be equipped with new oil skimming systems and, unlike the current barges, will have sufficient flat deck space to fully inflate boom before deploying the boom into the water.
Edison Chouest is building most of the vessels in Louisiana and Mississippi, while three of the new barges are being built in Portland, Oregon.
Two escort tugs launchedDay said that two of the new escort tugs were launched in November and that one of these tugs is now undergoing sea trials. The first of the general purpose tugs has also been launched. Two of the three barges being built in Portland have been launched, with the third of these barges due to be launched in the next six to eight weeks. Edison Chouest tugs will tow the barges to Alaska as part of the deployment of the vessels to Valdez.
The first of the general purpose tugs should arrive in Alaska in late February or early March, Day said. And three of five new workboats that will be carried by the escort tugs have been completed in Homer, Alaska, he said.
The PWSRCAC has previously questioned the designs of the new Edison Chouest tugs: A report commissioned by the organization particularly questioned why tests of scale models of the tugs had not been conducted, to demonstrate seaworthiness in Prince William Sound conditions. During his Jan. 18 presentation Day said that model testing of the tug designs had now been carried out and that, although a report on the testing has not yet been published, he understood that the testing had proved successful.
Once vessels arrive in Alaska, Edison Chouest will need to demonstrate both to Alyeska and to ADEC that the vessels can meet the performance requirements for their tasks. This testing of the vessels will come in addition to seaworthiness testing for the American Bureau of Shipping and sea trials for the U.S. Coast Guard. The idea then will be to progressively move the Edison Chouest vessels into the SERVS operations during June, to meet the July target for the transition, Day explained. Day also commented that, as a contingency arrangement, Alyeska has an agreement with Crowley to extend the deadline for the handover, if necessary.
Crew trainingTo prepare the Edison Chouest crews for operating the vessels out of Valdez, SERVS has already conducted 10,000 hours of crew training and plans a further 25,000 hours of training in the coming months, Day said. Training for Edison Chouest crews has included classroom sessions and the use of a marine simulator in Valdez.
Especially successful has been a program in which Edison Chouest captains ride on Crowley escort tugs, during the escort of tankers across Prince William Sound, Day said. This program, which began in October and will continue through March, has given the captains experience of escort duties in some of the most severe winter conditions in which tanker traffic can operate. The captains are all very experienced, having operated vessels in different regions around the world, Day said.
And Day particularly praised Crowley for its help. Crowley crew members have remained professional throughout the transition process, being generous in imparting their knowledge of what is involved in providing the marine services, and demonstrating that they really care about Prince William Sound, he said.
During the Jan. 18 meeting there was discussion of the fact that, under the terms of the trans-Alaska pipeline right of way, Alyeska and its contractors must maintain a Native hire level of at least 20 percent. Alyeska says that will require Edison Chouest to maintain this Native hire level.
In terms of regulatory approval for the new oil spill contingency plans, SERVS and the tanker operators have filed the revised plans with ADEC. The agency has submitted requests for further information as part of its review process. ADEC has also provided the state’s expectations for the capabilities of the new Edison Chouest vessels, Day said.
Valdez transition is a regulatory challengeThe transition of the marine services for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.’s oil terminal in Valdez from Crowley Marine Corp to Edison Chouest Offshore is not just a challenge for Alyeska and Edison Chouest. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation also faces the complex task of ensuring that the new services meet the state’s requirements for safe oil transportation in Prince William Sound and the Port of Valdez.
During a talk to the board of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council on Jan. 18 Geoff Merrell, ADEC’s central region manager, likened his agency’s task to fixing an airplane while it is still in flight. Essentially, ADEC must ensure that a near completely new fleet of vessels, with new crews and much new spill response equipment, meets regulatory requirements, while at the same time transportation of oil from Valdez continues uninterrupted.
Crunch in JuneThe crunch will come in June, when the Edison Chouest fleet progressively takes over the Crowley operations. ADEC personnel must assure that the new vessels have been appropriately demonstrated and that the new services meet the required parameters. For example, new equipment must meet or exceed the capabilities of the equipment it is replacing.
“We may be looking at a very intensive period during the June timeframe,” Merrell said. He said that ADEC is in the process of hiring contractors to ensure sufficient agency personnel are available. One concern is the possibility that ADEC might have to redirect some of its staff, thus impacting the marine transition, if there is an oil spill somewhere in the state in June, he said.
Essentially, both the marine terminal and the tanker operations from the terminal will require modified oil spill prevention and contingency plans approved by ADEC, taking into account the new vessels, equipment and personnel that Edison Chouest will bring to the operations. And ADEC must determine that Edison Chouest has the capability to undertake what is specified in the plans.
Currently the plans themselves have been filed with ADEC and the agency has requested additional information. The agency is currently reviewing answers to its questions regarding the terminal plan. The holders of the tanker plan have yet to respond to ADEC’s questions. Merrell commented that dealing with the tanker plan is much more complex than dealing with the terminal plan, given factors such as the greater resource requirements for the tanker plan and the fact that the tanker plan has multiple holders, including all of the shipping companies that use the Valdez terminal.
Ensuring safe oil transportationBut much more difficult than dealing with the plan documents is the question of really assuring safe oil transportation, Merrell commented.
“We have lots of questions about that,” he said. “We are engaged in lots of discussions with lots of different parties.”
Among other activities, ADEC staff are monitoring the training of Edison Chouest personnel.
Merrell said that one issue has been a realization that ADEC and the industry had made different assumptions about the management of the marine transition, with some of the industry assumptions being out of compliance with state regulations. This realization has caused much work and some of the questions raised have yet to be resolved. However, it was important to have the required discussions early, rather than try to deal with the various issues at the eleventh hour, Merrell commented.
Merrell also commented that, from ADEC’s perspective, the marine transition will not actually be complete in July, when Edison Chouest has taken over the Valdez and Prince William Sound operations. In fact, there will be a continuing schedule of announced and unannounced drills and exercises, he said.
- ALAN BAILEY