After three years of development, analysis and research, a document that aims to provide options to reduce the risk of marine oil spills in the Cook Inlet is nearing completion.
The Cook Inlet Risk Assessment Advisory Panel met Thursday at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai to develop its the risk reduction options for the project.
Tim Robertson, of Nuka Research and Planning Group, LLC. and facilitator for the risk assessment project, gave a public overview of the project in the morning before the panel went into a closed session.
The project focuses on large vessels and doesn’t include military or research vessels or non-marine oil work.
Robertson discussed the two phases of the project. The first is understanding the environment, hazards, vessel traffic, types of potential accidents and consequences. The second phase is identifying potential risk reduction options, some of which were outlined by the federal government others came from the panel and public comment. The team sorted the options into three categories — immediate implementation, additional analysis required and non-applicable.
During the closed session the group planned to discuss risk reduction and prevention options under consideration, which includes a cross-inlet pipeline, a harbor safety committee, emergency towing, expanded training and improved winter ice guidelines among other options. The options being considered fall under six categories starting with decreasing the basic causes of potential incidents to reducing the impact of a spill occurs.
The panel approved immediate implementation of a harbor safety committee. It is in the formation process with an inaugural meeting scheduled for November, Robertson said.
“Essentially moving maritime safety forward in Cook Inlet requires some kind of ongoing process, some ongoing body to look at that and that’s what harbor safety committees are,” he said.
While many harbor safety committees exist in the nation, none are currently established in Alaska, Robertson said.
In advance of identifying risk reduction options, a vessel traffic study was completed using 2010 data. It showed crude oil carriers moved 58 percent of the 450 million gallons of persistent oil. Tanker barges move 66 percent of the 566 million gallons of non-persistent oil.
An accident type of frequency study was conducted and showed in 2015-2020, the sum of the spill rates of four different vessel types is estimated to be 3.9 spills annually, which is based on national data, Robertson said.
A spill consequence analysis workshop was also held, which looked at environmental and socioeconomic impacts.
“We found that even moderate spills of 100 barrels or less — that would be 400-500 gallons — can have significant impacts to both the environment and to other economic activities and important human use things such as sportfishing, subsistence,” Robertson said.
Panel members include representatives for fisheries, land and resources, mariners, Native Alaskans and subsistence, oil platform and mobile drilling unit operations and ports and harbors.
The project management team is made up of representatives from the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the United States Coast Guard.
As the team is approaching the end of the process, Steve Russell, environmental program manager with DEC, said the management team hopes the process was useful and that the document is utilized when completed.
Robertson said a draft of the final document will be finished next week and available for public comment. By the end of September, the final document will be completed.
Additional project information and contact information for comments is available online at cookinletriskassessment.com.
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org