Is the possibility of a spill an acceptable risk?

By Wayne Jenkins

Recent events brought home the care that must be exercised at all scales and circumstances when it comes to marine vessels of any kind operating in Alaska.
In Jakolof Bay, the Christmas-time sinking of two vessels leaking diesel fuel and other petroleum products, places the livelihood of the local oyster farmers in jeopardy. Yet the sheen continues to spread at the time of this post. According to the owner, 50 gallons of diesel fuel and 35 gallons of hydraulic fluids, along with lube oils, were aboard.
Shell’s giant drilling platform, the Kulluk, broke loose while in tow from Dutch Harbor to Seattle and grounded on rocks of the storm-pounded southeast coast of the Kodiak archipelago. Shell reported there were 143,000 gallons of diesel fuel on the vessel and another 12,000 gallons of lubricants and hydraulic fluid.
In late August the jack-up rig Endeavor entered Kachemak Bay for a brief, eight-day maintenance visit in preparation for drilling in upper Cook Inlet. The rig was discovered to have numerous safety and maintenance issues, as well as harbor potential invasive species. It remains tied to the Homer dock four months later.
It is human to err. There is no guarantee of 100 percent safety in any undertaking. Therefore, it seems wise when approaching complex and potentially catastrophic operations, to use a bit of caution. We should take our time, avoid unnecessarily risky behavior and carefully weigh each step and decision.
And yet, minimizing risk does not appear to be on anyone’s radar — taking responsibility for unintended consequences happens after the fact and usually has to be decided by the courts.
There is something very wrong with this situation. As we have learned from experience, once we make a mess of things, it takes a fortune and time to heal the damage to our fisheries and economies. Taking responsibility later is too late.
There should have been more attention paid by the responsible parties to the private vessels at the Jakolof dock that sank from snow load at Christmas. Shell should not have tried to tow the Kulluk through some of Alaska’s most treacherous waters during the darkest days of winter. The Endeavor rig should not have been allowed into Alaska waters without a thorough inspection for potential invasive species.
Ensuring accountability in these matters is the job of our state and federal agencies. Where are they?

Wayne is the Executive Director for Cook Inletkeeper. He moved to Homer from the Blue Ridge mountains of Georgia in the snowy winter of 2011 and his wife Lori followed six months later. They have settled on five acres out East End Road and are rapidly adapting and loving their new life in Alaska.

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Posted by on Jan 23rd, 2013 and filed under Point of View. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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