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Hundreds of barrels of oil, water mixture recovered from Valdez spill

Courtesy: Alyeska Pipeline
Courtesy: Alyeska Pipeline(KTUU)
Published: Apr. 20, 2020 at 6:37 PM AKDT
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Eight days after oil was found in Prince William Sound in Valdez, a citizen oversight group says the initial response to the spill has been positive.

"Any amount of oil hitting the water is a big deal. You can never clean up all of the oil once it's been spilled, so we won't know the full impacts of this until it's over with and we can fully determine how much was spilled, how the process went confining and cleaning up, and do more long term monitoring for any lingering oil or impacts," said Brooke Taylor, director of communications for Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council. "To date, what we've seen is unified command, and specifically Alyeska as a responsible party, being very prompt and proactive with their response to this. We've seen they put together a great team to really respond to this. We've been very pleased with how well their containment and clean up so far has seemed to go."

PWSRCAC was created in the wake up of the Exxon Valdez oil spill to provide a voice for communities impacted by the Alyeska terminal and associated tankers.

In addition to long-term environmental monitoring and spill prevention planning, the group monitors spill response training, including training that prepares captains operating fishing vessels to act as first responders to a spill.

"They have called out a number of fishing vessels in this response to help setup boom, to help with containment, sensitive area protections," Taylor said. "It’s one of the reasons that this contracted model is something that we’re big advocates for, because it means these people have been trained ahead of time, they know how to use the gear, they are ready to act. And in particular in light of whats happening with COVID-19 right now, it also means that there’s that much less direct interaction that Alyeska staff have to have with these operators because they’ve already been trained."

As of Monday afternoon, the unified command for the incident says 798 barrels of water and oil mixture have been recovered. Further analysis shows that the amount of oil recovered from the water so far is approximately 12 barrels, or 511 gallons. An additional 30 gallons has been recovered from land.

The area has been boomed since April 12 and the boom has contained the spill.

The source has been traced to a sump a quarter of a mile uphill from the Valdez Marine Terminal. The sump is 4 feet by 4 feet and 16.5 feet deep. The unified command says it's used to collect rainwater and industrial runoff and routes them to the Ballast Water Treatment facility for further processing. The incident team says the oily water found in the harbor is not consistent with the runoff usually collected by the sump.

The unified command says maintenance crews have found debris in a check valve that prevented the sump from closing fully, which could have allowed oily water from the ballast water system to backflow into the sump. Crews are continuing to investigate what other factors could have caused the spill.

"Going forward, it's going to be monitoring and watching the situation from our perspective because they have a lot of clean up ahead of them. They have a lot to do with this investigation, and then once all that’s conducted, it’s analyzing everything that took place. What do we learn from this? What failed? What safety measures can we put in place to try and ensure that kind of failure doesn’t happen again. So this is not going to be over any time soon," Taylor said.

The council will continue long-term environmental monitoring and research that is independent from that conducted by industry.

You can read the latest updates on the spill response

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