Watchdog group wants more scrutiny at Valdez tanker port

Posted: Wednesday, November 01, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A citizen's oil watchdog group wants more intense oversight of the huge tanker port at Valdez after a series of dangerous incidents over the past two weeks.

Those incidents include a spark on the deck of an oil tanker before loading, powerful vibrations in valves used to load ships, and severe overheating in a motor next to an oil storage tank.

They prompted a special meeting of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council on Tuesday.

The council's board unanimously approved a resolution requesting that the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. hire outside experts to oversee all Valdez operations and maintenance.

The council was formed after the Exxon Valdez tanker spill in 1989. It wants the outside group at Valdez until Alyeska completes work on Berth No. 4, a loading dock currently down for repairs. The RCAC also wants an independent examination of all Valdez operations.

''I'm very concerned about the terminal,'' said Stan Stephens, an RCAC board member and Valdez resident. ''Incidents like these make me feel like it's ... 1989.''

Greg Jones, who heads Alyeska's Valdez operations, expressed some doubts about the usefulness of an audit or having a team monitoring Alyeska's daily operations.

The company already has an outside company examining operations to prepare for the upcoming renewal of its permit to run the pipeline across federal land.

''I don't want to end up duplicating efforts,'' Jones said.

But Jones didn't dispute the seriousness of the incidents.

''We view this as very serious. In Valdez, we're trying to air these problems out in the sunlight, learn our lessons,'' Jones said.

The RCAC requests heighten the pressure on Alyeska. The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the incident where a spark flashed off the end of a pipe used to recover oil vapor during loading this month.

The state-federal Joint Pipeline Office, which regulates the pipeline, is reviewing all the incidents.

Last week, the Joint Pipeline Office also hired specialists to review ''critical systems'' in the port and across the entire pipeline. Plans for this review predated the October incidents at the Valdez port, said Pipeline Office spokesman Rob McWhorter.

But the RCAC letter surpasses the regulators, calling for on-the-ground monitoring of Alyeska's day-to-day business.

''With everything going on over there, another set of eyes can't hurt,'' Blake Johnson, an RCAC board member, told the Anchorage Daily News.

Alyeska runs the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline and the Valdez tanker port. Alyeska is owned by six major oil companies, including BP, Exxon and Phillips.

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