Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Comparing the Exxon Valdez Grounding to the Kulluk's
The Exxon Valdez, in calm waters, left the tanker lane in Valdez Arm intentionally, and failed to change course to avoid Bligh Reef, and drove right on to it at gathering speed.
The Kulluk, after days of efforts to save it in bad midwinter seas and winds, was finally released by one of the vessels designed as a result of the Exxon Valdez disaster, by orders from an on-scene commodore, and slowly was blown onto less savage rocks.
The Exxon Valdez spewed millions of gallons of crude oil into a pristine environment, causing devastation that is lasting into the second decade of a new century. The Kulluk has yet, to our knowledge, spilled any oil.
However many less direct comparisons can be made. My first is that government agencies appear to have learned more from the Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) than did oil companies.
As a result of the EVOS, the state of Alaska has deployed various oil spill response packages along our coasts. There is even a small package in Old Harbor, the community nearest to the grounding. Kodiak, Homer, Seward and especially Valdez all have packages that will be deployed at the site if needed. Shell claims it has spill mitigation assets in Seward. I can't wait to see how they compare to those possessed by the state or the USCG.
Nor will any of Shell's highly vaunted stuff they had arrayed for the farcical September-November pre-drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas be of any use in this scenario. Should the Kulluk's fuel tanks be pierced, which isn't very likely, its diesel and lubricating fuels will not be as voluminous or toxic as those of the Exxon Valdez, but there is a possibility that more than 10% of them will be contained, depending on the weather. More than 10% containment would be an achievement.
Use of dispersants (which were curtailed mostly in the EVOS because Exxon simply couldn't find enough aircraft to get it here, so they blamed environmentalists for its non-use) should be entirely avoided. We should fight any attempts to do that, should the makers of these products pressure the USCG, the state or Shell to vomit their product upon our seas and shores.
In the EVOS we saw ample evidence of oil companies shirking their responsibility to maintain an oil spill fighting capability they had convinced legislators and legacy media representatives was adequate or superior. We learned that this was a complete lie.
In the Kulluk grounding, we are seeing evidence that an oil company that had convinced lawmakers on the state and national level that they were responsible players, have been deceiving our governments, us, and perhaps the oil company itself.
The EVOS did not have an impact on oil extraction on the North Slope. It had an impact on how we are prepared for maritime disaster.
The Kulluk should be reviewed for what we can learn about backups when moving rigs in adverse seasons. But, given the promises Shell has made, and the stakes involved in their offshore drilling plans for 2013, we need to apply any lessons learned about Shell's flawed organizational structure to how we view what this means to the health of our state's offshore waters and its coasts.
Shell's 2012 season and its shortcomings need to be looked at holistically, skeptically and severely, before they are allowed back into our waters this year.