Lawmakers warned about Alaska oil spill readiness

Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Alaska needs to spend more to prevent and clean up oil spills, two citizen watchdog groups told state lawmakers.

The Valdez-based Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Council said state equipment lags behind the latest technology. The Kenai-based Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council said the funding for state Division of Spill Prevention and Response should keep up with inflation.

The groups, which were created after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, testified Tuesday at a state Senate Resources Committee hearing in Anchorage.

State agencies are reviewing regulations in light of BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The state's spill division chief agreed his budget could be in trouble in the future. For spill response, oil producers pay a surcharge to the state on every barrel of oil. But with North Slope production declining, the total revenue collected has fallen, too. The division hasn't had to cut its budget yet, said the division chief, Larry Dietrick.

Dietrick defended the spill-response arsenal used in Alaska. The companies can use whatever equipment they want but have to meet the toughest spill cleanup standards in the country, he said.

State regulators said during the hearing that they will consider changes in drilling rules.

Larry Hartig, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said he is waiting for reports from national experts studying the Gulf spill.

Two major oil companies - Royal Dutch Shell PLC and ConocoPhillips - also testified about drilling off Alaska's northern coast. The companies hope to explore for oil on federal leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

State Sen. Bill Wielechowski, who co-chairs the Resources Committee, said he doesn't believe the companies will be allowed to drill unless the state persuades federal regulators it can be done safely.

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