EPA, watchdog group raise concerns about Valdez oil tanker port

Posted: Friday, January 21, 2005

ANCHORAGE - An oil industry watchdog group and a federal agency are raising concerns about changes planned for the crude oil tanker port in Valdez.

The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council warns that the downsizing and modernization of the port might leave it with an inadequate firefighting system and too few workers to prevent "a catastrophic environmental event," according to the Anchorage Daily News.

The council suggests that, due to the possible mothballing of some huge crude oil storage tanks at the port, tankers might risk traveling in bad weather to pick up oil when inventory pushes capacity.

The council submitted its written comments to officials in the Joint Pipeline Office, which regulates the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline and the tanker port. The officials are conducting an environmental assessment of the proposed tanker port overhaul.

The Environmental Protection Agency, a member agency in the pipeline office, said the environmental assessment lacked enough analysis of air pollution, particularly from a part of the port that treats oily ballast water from tankers. EPA officials also raised concern about a potential increase in pollution from a diesel-fired power plant that might be built for the port.

The concerns raised by the Valdez watchdog group and the EPA are being considered, said Jerry Brossia, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management representative in the pipeline office. Representatives for the citizens' council and the pipeline office have a meeting scheduled for later this month.

Brossia also said air pollution overall has dropped sharply at the tanker port thanks to improvements since the early 1990s, and pollution is expected to decrease still more.

Five oil companies including majors BP, Conoco Phillips and Exxon Mobil own the pipeline and tanker port.

Because production of North Slope crude oil, currently at less than 1 million barrels a day, is only half what it once was, the companies have been looking for ways to drive down the costs of transporting the oil.

Already the companies have begun a $250 million modernization of the pipeline that they believe will save operating costs over time. Now they're considering a major rebuild of the tanker port, as well, to make it smaller and more efficient.

Mike Heatwole, spokesman for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., the Anchorage-based oil company consortium that runs the pipeline and tanker port, said Wednesday no budget has been set for port reconstruction. And the owner companies have not yet received a project proposal from Alyeska, he said.

Alyeska is working with the Joint Pipeline Office to ensure "safe and environmentally responsible operations throughout the system," Heatwole said.

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