Our view: Gulf spill's long reach

Alaska should spare what it can for where the oil is in the water

June 21, 2010 

Alaskans are rightly wary of the Coast Guard's call for a nationwide inventory of oil spill-response resources. The fear is that the ongoing Gulf spill will strip Alaska of its own response capability, so painstakingly built up and maintained in the decades since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

We don't want to let our guard down.

The Coast Guard is doing what it should do. Spill response commanders need to know where gear, personnel and support are and what they can effectively deploy for the sake of the Gulf states.

Stan Stephens, a longtime Prince William Sound tour boat operator and member of the PWS Regional Citizens Advisory Council, has the right reaction.

Stephens recalled help that came to Alaska after the '89 spill. Now it's Alaska's turn, and we should help all that we can without gutting our own response capabilities. The need to keep our guard up, maintain backup systems and the firefighter's mentality of 24/7 vigilance argues against sparing much for the Gulf.

But that's where the oil is in the water, that's where people and the environment is taking a beating right now and that's where Alaskans from many walks of life, from drilling rig workers to fishing boat skippers to sociologists want to help in any way they can.

As Stephens said, we just need to be smart about what we can spare and what we need to maintain the watch here. The Coast Guard has said it won't take Alaska resources below minimal response levels without the state's agreement. A close watch by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and advisory council should keep us prepared.

The Coast Guard's inventory reflects the magnitude of the Gulf spill, its long reach and the inadequacy of the response, despite the thousands of people and billions of dollars deployed. National Public Radio told the story Monday morning of the stricken ice-house merchants of the Louisiana bayou, with no shrimp boats to supply. A diesel engine repair shop has cut its workforce. Tourists have gone elsewhere, despite the president's call for Americans to visit the Gulf coast. Losses in marine life and marshes can't be measured yet.

The lesson? As an old Alyeska and BP executive, Bob Malone, said a long time ago, oil belongs in the ground or above the ground -- never on the ground or in the water. Once that happens, especially on a massive scale like Exxon Valdez or the Deepwater Horizon, you're left with damage control at best.

Prevention is vital. That's why Alaska has to keep its guard up. As the Gulf calls for help, Alaska will continue to answer, as it already has.

But we need to make sure that answer doesn't leave us keeping a poor watch on the home front.

BOTTOM LINE: Alaska will help with Gulf spill -- but should keep its own prevention and response abilities strong.

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