As spill anniversary marked, world looks to Alaska for best practices

Posted: Thursday, March 25, 2004

In my job, I frequently point out perceived shortcomings of the oil industry, but this time I want to recognize how much better the industry performs in Alaska than in many other parts of the world.

During the first week of February, I flew to Scotland for a two-day meeting with people from Shetland, Angola and Nigeria. The purpose of this meeting was to form an organization to help African countries see examples of the best practices of the oil industry and learn from them.

This new "North-South Platform grew out of the United Nations' 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannes-burg. Funding for the effort comes from the U.S. Agency for International Development; the project is being coordinated by the United Nations Stakeholder Forum. One of the conditions placed on funding the program was that there should be a representative from Alaska.

Thus far two areas of best practice have been identified: Alaska and the Sullom Voe oil terminal in Scotland. The element that Alaska and Sullom Voe have in common is active involvement by citizens of the area in the safe handling and transportation of oil. While citizens in these areas are not hostile to the oil industry, they are demanding that best practices be followed.

In many parts of the world, oil development is taking place without the involvement of local citizens and often the governments of these areas lack the knowledge or the motivation to demand best practices. It is the goal of the North-South Platform, through exchange programs and academic research, to provide examples and training in what should be expected and the good that can be achieved if the revenues from development are used in a constructive manner.

In the next few months, there will be an effort to identify other developing areas in Africa and other parts of the world experiencing oil development and to also identify other oil provinces where best practices are exhibited. Sometime in the fall, we expect to have another meeting in Scotland and, later, a meeting in Alaska.

Alaska has much to show other areas of the world. In the twelve months of 2003 not a single drop of oil was spilled from tankers to water in the state. The tanker companies coming to Alaska have designed and are building double hull tankers that not only meet, but exceed, federal requirements. The tugs we use in Prince William Sound are some of the finest in the world. Our "best available technology laws" are examples of how seriously we take prevention of and response to oil spills.

This international interest in Alaska practices comes on the 15th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and is another reminder of the importance of the safety improvements in crude oil transportation triggered by the devastating spill.

Most of those improvements are the result of partnership between industry, regulators and citizens, which is perhaps the most valuable lesson we can teach people in other countries facing the prospect of major oil development.

John Devens is the executive director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council. He was mayor of Valdez at the time of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on March 24, 1989. The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council is an independent nonprofit corporation whose mission is to promote environmentally safe operation of the Valdez Marine Terminal and the oil tankers that use it.

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