The Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council decided Friday to call for a comprehensive review and risk assessment of Cook Inlet's offshore and onshore pipelines. The action was adopted at a meeting of CIRCAC's Preventative Response and Operations Safety Committee (PROPS).
CIRCAC first identified a need for such a review over a year ago in a report that gave an overview of pipeline regulatory requirements. The report pointed out the regulatory confusion that comes from the lack of a single agency coordinating the design, construction, maintenance, operation and spill response plans for Cook Inlet pipelines.
It also indicated that Cook Inlet pipelines are nearing the end of their projected life spans.
"We cannot afford to wait any longer to begin a risk assessment of Cook Inlet pipelines," said CIRCAC Executive Director James E. Carter Sr. "The pipelines, in some cases, have been in service for almost 40 years. It is time to evaluate the condition of the pipelines and get a clear understanding of what we are dealing with in Cook Inlet."
There have been a series of pipeline spills throughout this year. A Unocal subsea pipeline used to transport crude oil from the Dolly Varden platform to the Trading Bay Production Facility leaked crude oil into the inlet in February. A May leak has been linked to discharge from the Cross Timbers outfall line.
As recently as the first of this month there was a leak in an an underground pipeline carrying refined fuels from the Tesoro Alaska refinery in Nikiski to Anchorage.
According to CIRCAC Public Outreach Coordinator Joe Gallagher, CIRCAC is concerned about the potential environmental damage these types of leaks can have, as well as the threat faulty pipelines pose to public safety.
"There have been several spills involving pipelines this year," Gallagher said. "None have been major, but all resulted in the release of crude oil. There is a potential for a catastrophic event. We're not saying we're there now, we're saying we don't want to be there. Safety is a consideration that needs to be acknowledged."
CIRCAC hopes to find out a number of things through this assessment, Gallagher said, such as where the pipelines are located, how agencies address potential problems, ownership of the pipelines and condition of the pipelines themselves.
When the review is complete, CIRCAC plans to use the data as a basis for a pipeline forum made up of industry representatives, regulators and citizens. The forum would then decide what steps need to be taken to improve the overall operation of inlet pipelines.
"The committee felt very strongly that the situation with the pipelines can no longer be put off and has to be addressed immediately," Gallagher said. "We thought the best strategy to do this would be to have an independent review and assessment of the pipeline so we can have something in hand to discuss at the forum."
CIRCAC is asking the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to perform the assessment. Ideally, the review will begin within the month so the forum can begin operating in May, Gallagher said.
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