Report criticizes Alyeska safety procedures at terminal

Posted: Sunday, December 03, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The U.S. Coast Guard rapped the company that runs the trans-Alaska pipeline and oil port for poor training, lack of oversight on routine maintenance and shoddy procedures that led to a spark on the deck of an oil tanker in Valdez in October, according to a report released last week.

''This incident uncovered some deficiencies,'' said Lt. David V. Smith, the Coast Guard's chief of port safety in Valdez.

Valdez Coast Guard Commander Peyton Coleman is considering civil fines against Alyeska for the incident. Smith said a decision will be made on the fines in the coming weeks.

On Oct. 19, a boom that sucks toxic vapors off crude oil during loading was moving toward the deck of the tanker Polar Alaska. As the boom touched the deck, a spark flashed.

Alyeska called the incident ''a near miss.'' With millions of barrels of oil and toxic vapors nearby, others suggested the spark could have ignited a huge fire.

The problem was that an Alyeska worker unwittingly fastened a strap that conducts electricity around a flange designed to stop electric current from reaching tankers. The strap allowed electricity to reach the deck of the tanker.

The report also said that a valve at the end of the vapor recovery boom was leaking. The amount of vapor was small and likely could not have ignited into a major fire, according to the report.

The central problem was that the strap never should have been fastened around the flange. The Coast Guard is considering a fine for the violation of mechanical procedures.

The Coast Guard is studying a second fine because Alyeska workers said the vapor system had been inspected without visually checking the equipment.

''We don't dispute the Coast Guard findings,'' said Tim Woolston, Alyeska spokesman.

The company immediately stopped operations at the berth and investigated after the incident. Alyeska has since posted warnings, changed inspection procedures and is considering additional training, he said.

The incident revealed fundamental flaws at the berths, Smith said.

Also, there is poor oversight of maintenance at the berths, particularly when different groups of employees such as operators, maintenance personnel and contractors are working at the same time, Smith said.

Finally, workers are poorly trained and have not been reporting work done on some critical systems at the berth. For example, the strap was improperly removed and replaced around the flange at least four times in the two months before the sparking incident.

''They don't all know what each other is doing,'' he said.

The Coast Guard recommended Alyeska change inspection, reporting and maintenance procedures, and improve training for berth workers.

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