Gov. Steve Cowper told the owners of the transAlaska pipeline Wednesday that if they are not soon prepared to clean up another oil spill he will shut down the Valdez pipeline terminal. If successful, the action would prevent the shipment of North Slope crude oil to the Lower 48. If continued, it would lead to the shutdown of the pipeline itself.
The state has drafted a tough emergency order, scheduled to be made public today, that outlines what the oil companies must do to keep oil flowing. A copy of the order, obtained by the Daily News, would require Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. to substantially upgrade the equipment and personnel for dealing with spills and change the operation of the terminal to lessen the chance of another accident.
The order says the oil companies will be prosecuted if they don't comply. There is no mention of shutting down the pipeline terminal.
But in an interview Wednesday, Cowper made it clear that he will close the terminal if the companies do not comply with the order. He said the response to the grounding of the Exxon Valdez was inadequate and the oil companies must be better prepared.
"We want the oil industry to be ready for a spill of this magnitude if it happens tomorrow," Cowper said.
"There's going to have to be a plan that satisfies us, our people, and it'll be tough and if it isn't complied with we don't have any remedy available to us except shut down the terminal. And we'll do it."
Under a law passed last year the state has the right to revoke the permit for the oil terminal at Valdez if an oil spill cleanup plan is not followed. Revoking the permit would force closure of the terminal and stop all oil from being loaded on tankers in Valdez harbor.
Cowper has said that if the pipeline is closed he is willing to ask for a special appropriation from the earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund to make up for the millions of dollars in state oil taxes that would be lost. Any closure is not expected to last long, according to a Cowper spokesman.
About 85 percent of the state's revenue comes from taxes and royalties on oil. Alaska provides 25 percent of the nation's oil production.
Cowper would not say what the emergency order calls for. But a draft copy obtained by the Daily News says, "Continued operation of Alyeska's Marine Terminal and tanker traffic at the current crude oil flow rate creates a substantial potential risk of an additional oil spill at Alyeska's Marine Terminal or in Prince William Sound."
In the draft order, the state would require the oil companies to:
* Identify in writing the permanent storage locations of all oil spill cleanup equipment within 72 hours of the order being issued. The equipment cannot be used for anything but spill cleanup and training.
* Designate a 12 person, 24 hour oil spill response crew that does nothing except respond to spills.
* Place containment booms around all tankers in the harbor.
* Allow tankers in and out of port only during daylight hours.
* Load only one tanker at a time until all the cleanup equipment is in place. The companies have 72 hours to gather all the equipment.
* Have equipment available no later than April 30 to respond within two hours to a 10 million gallon spill.
If the order is not complied with company officials could be subject to criminal prosecution, jail time and fines of more than $100,000.
Cowper lays most of the blame for the poor response to the Valdez spill on Alyeska, not Exxon, and he refuses to do business with the pipeline operators.
"I'm not willing to deal with Alyeska," he said. "I don't have any reason to trust anything that Alyeska says. It's that simple. I don't think I owe them much courtesy either."
So Wednesday Cowper dealt only with the chief executives of the pipeline's three major owners, ARCO Alaska; BP America; and Exxon USA. Cowper met in his office Wednesday afternoon with James Ross, chief executive officer of BP America; Robert Wycoff, president and chief operating officer for ARCO and Darrel Warner, president of Exxon Pipeline Co.
Chuch Webster of BP America would only say that the meeting with the governoe was a very constructive question. Representatives of the other oil companies either could not be reached for comment or would not comment on the emergency order.
While it took a massive spill to push the state into action, the Department of Environmental Conservation has had the authority to inspect Alyeska's oil spill cleanup equipment since last year. But Cowper spokesman David Ramseur said Alyeska has "made it exceedingly difficult to inspect the equipment and make sure it was all there." He said DEC enforced the law "as much as possible."
The draft emergency order says Alyeska did not follow its contingency plan because the company:
* Did not surround the stricken tanker with containment booms until more than 72 hours after the accident, and long after most of the oil had leaked into Prince William Sound.
* Took too long to move equipment to the site.
* Took no action to prevent spilled oil from hitting communities or sensitive wildlife areas.
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