The slick of oil spilled from the tanker Exxon Valdez was hidden by a cloudy gray shroud Monday sloshing in Prince William Sound, being tossed by seas of the Gulf of Alaska, but exactly where it was, no one was sure.
"We didn't get up at all today," said Hal Alabaster, spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "We hope to fly tomorrow. Only then will we know."
Meanwhile, at the Alyeska terminal across the bay from town, there was a new slick to worry about a 168gallon spill dumped around 5:15 a.m. by British Petroleum's tanker Keystone Canyon. Alyeska spokesman Tom Brennan said the crude leaked through a discharge valve while it was being loaded.
Under emergency state regulations prompted by the Exxon Valdez spill, the Keystone Canyon had been surrounded by booms before the loading operation had begun. The containment worked. Three small skimmers had the spill cleaned up by about 2 p.m.
"We're still looking into why it happened," Brennan said. "It caused a temporary suspension here, because the skimmers were working on that spill. We had two other tankers here, but we couldn't load them until the skimmers were free."
Officials from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said they were investigating the spill.
Under normal circumstances, a 168gallon spill would be considered serious, especially in the sheltered waters of Port Valdez. When the port was reopened five days after the Valdez ran aground, some environmental organizations feared that Alyeska wouldn't be able to respond to a second spill because its equipment was in use on the first.
Then on Friday, Gov. Steve Cowper threatened to shut the pipeline down completely unless Alyeska took new safety measures contained in the emergency order, including surrounding tankers in port with booms.
In Juneau, DEC Commissioner Dennis Kelso said that Alyeska has complied with the order, at least the portions that had to be done by Monday.
The regulations set out a series of steps Alyeska has to follow if it wants to keep operating. Gov. Steve Cowper has said that in addition to shutting down the terminal, the state could file civil or criminal complaints against the pipeline operators if they failed to obey.
"We don't think it's going to be necessary to do that," Kelso said Monday. "The short responses are being met."
Over the Sound and the land along its forested rim, the skies were drizzly and depressing all day Monday, weather caused by two low pressure systems that also brought 45mileperhour winds out of the north and east early in the morning. As forecasters predicted, the winds were shifting Monday night to come from the south, but they slowed considerably, down to between 15 and 20 miles per hour.
The hope on Sunday had been that the storm would at least break up more of the estimated 1.8 million gallons of crude drifting in the Gulf. But because of the same storm, no one could see if that hope had materialized.
What people on the water's surface could see, though, was that those gales did not destroy the rows of booms protecting the fishery at San Juan Bay on Evans Island, in the Sound's southwest corner. But they did damage, according to Jim Hayden, state DEC spill cleanup coordinator.
"On the Navy boom, we found the anchors holding it in place were too light," Hayden said. "It keeps moving."
Exxon's oil has been fouling the Sound and the Gulf since March 24, when the company tanker ran aground on Bligh Reef. Rocks ripped gaping holes in the hull and the ship dumped more than 10 million gallons of Prudhoe Bay crude. Men and women have been chasing the oil nearly in vain since then as it spread in and around islands on the west of the Sound and seeped into the Gulf to threaten the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak.
Also clearly visible Monday was the death toll caused by the spill. By early evening, biologists counted 1,242 dead birds and 158 dead sea otters. They were still counting.
Clear, too, were the delays in mopup efforts Exxon had hoped to mount Sunday. Trailers were to have been set on a barge and a 90man crew was to have been dispatched to the north shore of Naked Island. Monday, it was unclear where the barge was and no crews have been put on the island.
Military brass tried to shed some light on what was going on Monday. The heads of a 21member Joint Task Force assessment team Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Corps of Engineers passed through Valdez on their way to Elmendorf Air Force Base, near Anchorage.
They are the response to President Bush's call to bring in the military. Not hundreds of troops, but a handful of advisers, which oil spill experts say will probably be better than having boots trampling the oil soaked islands.
"This is clearly an orientation visit," said Col. Tom Wilson, team chief. "Our mission is to provide support. But we still have to assess what resources DOD (Department of Defense) has to offer and what's needed here. We're not going to wave a magic wand and throw troops at the problem."
If the weather is clear today, NOAA and other observers want to visit the Gulf shore and Esther Island, in the northwest corner of the Sound, quickly. If southern winds became strong, those areas could have been splattered with oil. Kenai Fjords National Park lies on the Gulf shore; the world's largest fish hatchery is on Esther Island.
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