Following the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, the state legislature enacted laws that are still among the strictest in the nation with respect to oil contingency planning. Alaska has very specific standards on how long it may take to contain spills that are on open waters, according to Jeffery Mach, Oil and Gas Coordinator with Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation. Additionally there are requirements for prevention of spills whether the spill comes out of pipelines, refineries, exploration facilities, tankers, or tank farms.
"Our job is to go out and inspect facilities to make sure that equipment that is in the plan is there and working and the people there are trained. We also hold drills or exercises to see if the equipment will perform the way that it is suppose to. Sometimes we simulate spills with surrogates like ping pong balls or oranges that are environmentally friendly," Mach told the Kenai Chamber of Commerce recently.
Spill preparedness is a time consuming and high budget item for oil and gas companies. The line between environmental protection and regulating industry out of business is a fine one, "We try to make people do the best they can. We do walk a fine line. While the governor wants industry to know that we are open for business, he has also said that we want to do things right in Alaska. So it's frequently a balancing act to make sure that people do things right and for us to act in a timely fashion that we are not delaying plans for new exploration and production that brings revenues into the state," said Mach.
Streamlining the state's contingency plan process and making it more predictable is something Mach feels is a priority. He plans on having a summary of new ideas in time to make recommendations by the time a new administration takes over in Juneau.
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