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Exxon building 2 tankers to haul Alaska crude

Patti Epler

ExxonMobil Corp. is building two new double-hull tankers to haul crude oil from Valdez to the West Coast, the company's marine affiliate announced Monday.

SeaRiver Maritime Inc. said it has signed a letter of intent with Aker Philadelphia Shipyard in Pennsylvania to build the vessels.

Construction of the 115,000 deadweight ton tankers is expected to begin in mid-2012 and finished in 2014. The ships will be able to hold 730,000 barrels, the company said in a press release.

The vessels will replace two existing double-hull tankers in the SeaRiver fleet, but neither Exxon nor SeaRiver officials returned calls seeking more information. As recently as two years ago, Exxon was still using at least one single-hull tanker in the Prince William Sound trade, the SeaRiver Long Beach, the sister ship to the Exxon Valdez, according to Bloomberg News.

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef just after leaving the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. shipping terminal in Valdez. The single hull was ripped open by the rocks and more than 11 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the sound, soiling hundreds of miles of shoreline. Until the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout and spill in the Gulf of Mexico last summer, it had been the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

The next year, in response to the Exxon Valdez, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, requiring shippers to phase out the use of single-hull tankers by 2015. Exxon was one of the last to continue using the older ships.

Katie Pesznecker, a spokeswoman for Alyeska, said Monday no single-hull tankers remain in the fleet. On average, about 23 tankers a month are loaded at the Valdez terminal, she said.

The new tankers, being built in partnership with Samsung Heavy Industries, will have all cargo and fuel compartments protected with double hulls. SeaRiver said main engine and auxiliary systems will be energy efficient and have lower air emissions than regulatory standards require.

The cost of building the ships wasn't disclosed but in 2009, Bloomberg said, the cost of new double-hull supertanker was about $126 million.

"Today's announcement is consistent with our long-term ongoing commitment to safe and reliable marine transportation in the United States and throughout the world," Will Jenkins, president of SeaRiver, said in a prepared statement. "These new vessels will provide jobs for American shipyard workers and help support energy needs along the U.S. West Coast for decades to come."

Contact Patti Epler at patti(at)alaskadispatch.com