DEC streamlining oil spill contingency plan process

Posted: Sunday, March 03, 2002

Spill preparedness is a time-consuming subject for oil and gas companies. However, the wheels of bureaucracy can be oiled somewhat, according to a representative of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Jeff Mach, gas pipeline liaison and oil and gas contingency coordinator for the DEC addressed the Kenai Chamber of Commerce Wednesday. Mach told the chamber that the DEC is looking at ways of streamlining its contingency plan processes.

Mach said that since 1992, when the Legislature enacted tougher standards for oil spill contingency plans, his agency has experienced huge backlogs and delays in making sure companies are in compliance. This is a problem, he said, because sometimes it can delay companies trying to get work done.

"Since the DEC came out with its 'best available technology' requirement, plans and reviews have increased dramatically," Mach said. "There is a real need for us to go in and look at ways to make the process more predictable."

Currently, most oil exploration, production, transportation and storage entities must file a spill contingency plan with the DEC. These plans come up for review every three years, and this often creates problems, due to the sheer volume of work that has to be done.

Mach named a couple of different areas his agency is looking at improving its efficiency in.

"We're evaluating new ideas. Both Cook Inlet and the North Slope have contingency plans in the same areas. Is there a way to implement a 'firehouse system' to give a wider geographic base for a number of facilities?" Mach asked.

"The DEC can update guidance documents or come up with new lists for best available technology," he said.

"Another area we're looking at is the public review process. Right now we have many reviewing agencies, both governmental and non-governmental, and it becomes kind of a messy process where people have to keep going back and forth," he said.

Mach told the chamber the DEC hopes to have a summary of new ideas in time to make recommendations when a new administration takes over in Juneau. He added that many things the DEC is looking at may fall under the jurisdiction of the Legislature, and may take more time to implement. He said he hopes to hold meetings this spring to further gauge public and private concerns about spill contingency plans.

"A lot of different factors come into play. We need to get moving. It's a worthy topic of discussion. ... We're hoping to have something when the new governor takes over," he said, adding that the DEC's main concern is making sure the process works and is as efficient as possible.

"Facilities will still have to have individual plans. We're just looking at how to speed (the process) up," Mach said.

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