In the place where another big oil disaster happened, spill commission member Fran Ulmer got asked about the impact of BP’s huge spill on the people in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Just like in Alaska, I think for some people the impact will last for a long time,” she said.
Ulmer, chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage, was appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. She’s also a former Juneau mayor and legislator, as well as Alaska lieutenant governor.
Ulmer’s presentation Tuesday evening at the University of Alaska Southeast follows an earlier appearance in the midst of the commission’s work in which she was unable to give her opinions.
Now, after the issuance of the commission’s bipartisan report that blamed poor management decisions from BP and contractors Halliburton and Transocean, she returned for a fuller report.
Several questions from the local crowd revolved around the Exxon Valdez spill 20 years earlier.
Ulmer said that just as the effects of the Prince William Sound disaster linger for residents there, they’ll likely remain in the Gulf of Mexico.
“In Cordova, even today, if you are at a coffee shop, chances are before you leave that coffee shop someone will talk about the impact the Exxon Valdez oil spill had on their family or their business,” she said.
But much of what has been learned in Alaska can be replicated in the Gulf of Mexico, she said.
That includes training for crews of the “vessels of opportunity,” the fishing or other boats hired to deploy boom or other tasks. That sometimes meant they couldn’t effectively run the equipment they were given, she said.
In Alaska, that training is done regularly at places like Prince William Sound Community College and elsewhere.
Residents in communities along the Gulf of Mexico coastline should also create Regional Citizen Advisory Councils as was done in Gulf of Alaska communities, she said.
Ulmer praised the commission’s report, and said she was happy that some of its recommendations are already being implemented or are under consideration.
But she wasn’t willing to say she was confident the first offshore deepwater permit issued since the moratorium following the Deepwater Horizon had been adequately reviewed by the new federal agency in charge of regulation.
Ulmer disputed an audience member’s contention that the permit had gone to BP.
“I don’t think it was BP, though, I think it was a different operator,” she said. “I’m pretty sure it was not BP.”
That permit, for a well owned and operated by Noble Energy, is 46.5 percent owned by BP, according to the ProPublica news website.
Ulmer concluded by saying the commission would meet again in a year to see if there was anything additional it needed to say about the spill or the reaction.
Following through on the recommendations, however, isn’t the commission’s role, however.
“There’s not much we can do, its up to the American people, it’s up to you,” Ulmer said.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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