For more than a decade before the Exxon Valdez oil spill, top officials of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation ignored warnings from their own staff and failed to make oil companies prepare for a major spill in Prince William Sound.
Year after year, DEC staffers, some Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. employees and others warned that catastrophe was likely if Alyeska wasn't ordered to upgrade its equipment and teach cleanup workers to do their jobs, a Daily News investigation shows.
Yet beyond noting the critical field reports, DEC administrators did little to force Alyeska to do better. Every DEC administration since oil began to flow in 1977 has been ineffectual against a stubborn and miserly Alyeska, which behaved as though a big spill would never happen, according to public records and interviews with former and current state, federal and industry representatives.
Alyeska, the consortium of seven oil companies that own the pipeline and Valdez terminal, cannot legally operate its shipping facility without state approval of a plan to deal with oil spills in Port Valdez and Prince William Sound.
Yet DEC never moved to withhold its approval as a way of forcing Alyeska to improve oilspill response. The agency never cited or took any other enforcement action against the pipeline company, a fact that Alyeska now says shows DEC was satisfied with its plan and performance.
As a result, the agency effectively ignored the danger posed by the giant oil tankers and, critics say, shares the blame for the devastation from the March 24 spill. The tanker Exxon Valdez, maneuvering to avoid ice, smashed into Bligh Reef about 25 miles from Alyeska's shipping terminal, spilling 11 million gallons of North Slope crude in what has become the nation's worst tanker spill.
"The adjective that most comes to mind when I think of DEC is spineless," says Patti Saunders, a veteran environmental lawyer. "There is this perception about how powerful (the oil companies) are and DEC is not willing to tackle them."
NOT A HIGH PRIORITY The tanker fleet has spilled small amounts of oil in Prince William Sound more than 400 times during the past dozen years, so DEC officials have had ample opportunity to assess Alyeska's spill preparations. In addition, Alyeska conducts periodic drills for its crews and equipment.
In simulated spills and real ones, DEC has watched Alyeska in action and repeatedly found the company's efforts barely adequate, or worse. Containment booms sank, skimmers clogged and cleanup crews bumbled while oil escaped into open water or washed up on beaches.
Time and again, DEC staffers complained that much of Alyeska's equipment wasn't suitable for the harsh Valdez environment and wouldn't stand a chance against a big spill.
After Alyeska disbanded its fulltime spill response team in 1981 and cut back on equipment, DEC staffers wrote impassioned reports warning of disaster and calling for action. They got little support from their superiors.
Alyeska's oil spill plan "just never seemed to be a priority," says Randy Bayliss, former head of the DEC's Valdez office. For years Bayliss tried to get his bosses to order stronger oil spill precautions. "There was always something bigger and more important."
In recent years, prodded by citizen complaints and news coverage, DEC has toughened its stance on water and air pollution at the Valdez terminal. But it continued to largely ignore the tankers that carry billions of gallons of crude oil out of Alaska.
Dennis Kelso, the head of DEC since January 1987, had never been to Valdez as commissioner before the Exxon tanker smashed into Bligh Reef on March 24. When he arrived at the ship that afternoon, his own staff didn't know who he was.
That was the day the staff was vindicated.
Alyeska crews took at least 14 hours to find equipment some of it buried in deep snow and load it on a barge. Once at the site of the spill, booms and skimmers the state had found acceptable on paper proved inadequate on the water.
Much of the oil that killed animals and birds and blackened a thousand miles of shoreline could have been scooped up by better equipment and trained crews, a study by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, concluded. GAO said more than 4 million of the 11 million gallons released could have been collected before control of the spill was lost to bad weather on March 27.
"It is not surprising that major problems were encountered because no one had realistically prepared to deal with a spill of this magnitude in Prince William Sound," GAO associate director Victor Rezendes told a congressional committee five months after the spill.
Cowper, Kelso and other state leaders were quick to point angry fingers at Alyeska and Exxon. Kelso and Cowper have continually rejected any suggestion that DEC shares the blame.
Kelso says weak laws didn't allow DEC to force Alyeska to acquire the equipment and train the personnel to handle a big spill.
He also says the legislature was at fault because it wouldn't give DEC money to review contingency plans and police Alyeska.
But Kelso didn't need a new review of the Alyeska plan. His own staff was already telling him that Alyeska, with its aging equipment and untrained workers, could not handle a major spill. In June, six months after becoming commissioner, Kelso approved Alyeska's spill plan without ever reading it or asking much about it.
MISMATCHED TUG OF WAR
DEC and Alyeska are like fraternal twins, born of the same circumstances but opposite in nature.
Alyeska was formed in 1970 by the major Alaska oil producers to build and operate the transAlaska pipeline and Valdez shipping terminal. DEC was created by the legislature in 1971 to oversee construction of the pipeline and oil development in general.
DEC has always been starved for resources. For nearly 20 years, since its birth, the agency's workload has mushroomed as complex environmental and public health programs evolved. The Cowper administration pushed for two years to increase DEC's budget and succeeded in getting more money from the legislature.
Alyeska, on the other hand, has always had plenty of money to run the pipeline and terminal. Its owners give it whatever it needs, according to Alyeska and owner company officials. Alyeska has made more than $12 billion for its owners in the past dozen years, a state report says.
In the field, DEC and Alyeska have never gotten along. Last summer, Alyeska refused to allow DEC inspectors access to the terminal, saying Dan Lawn, the agency's chief Valdez investigator, was a "jerk" and a "troublemaker."
At the executive level, they've mostly ignored each other. DEC administrators, their agency stretched to the limit, have chosen not to tackle the wellfinanced oil companies unless absolutely necessary. Complains DEC's Kelso: "Alyeska has more lawyers than I've got people in my entire oil and hazardous waste program."
Since pipeline construction days, DEC has found it hard to get tough with Alyeska. The state, hungry for cash from its share of North Slope oil and eager to put thousands of Alaskans to work building the 800mile pipeline, pushed hard to get the oil flowing.
Environmental concerns focused on construction of the pipeline. Permafrost and earthquakes were the principal hazards, not reefs in Prince William Sound.
Responsibility for overseeing tanker operations lay with the U.S. Coast Guard, an agency with a soft heart for the oil industry. On March 23, 1977, Coast Guard Adm. Jack Hayes gave a clear indication of that attitude. Fed up with criticism from state environmental officials and others, Hayes told a meeting of regulators, port officials, citizens and press: "Our trouble is that we don't trust the tanker industry to do what's right."
Since 1977, there have been three oilspill contingency plans covering Port Valdez and Prince William Sound. State law requires every terminal and tanker operating in Alaska to submit a document detailing how a spill would be handled. Regulations govern how much equipment facilities must have and allow the state to hold drills to check a company's readiness.
The plans must be reviewed and reapproved every three years, although for Alyeska as well as some 400 others who come under the law that schedule has slipped badly. DEC administrators say they don't have the resources to keep up with the reviews, let alone inspect equipment and personnel.
DEC staffers who reviewed Alyeska's first plan in 1977 asked for major changes.
"Alyeska's Valdez Terminal OilSpill Contingency Plan, in almost every major facet, contains mistakes and inadequacies, demonstrates microscopic thinking and, worse, omits major functions that are necessary," the DEC's Randy Bayliss wrote to his bosses in 1976.
"The initial plan is so bad, the department should consider prosecution for violation of solidwaste regulations."
Bayliss believed Alyeska needed more containment boom floating fences designed to keep oil from spreading. He wanted more boats and people and more thought given to cleanup techniques.
At least 50,000 feet of boom was needed to combat a spill in Prince William Sound, the state said in 1977.
Alyeska complained that to deploy that much boom "would be like the Normandy invasion," according to a state summary of a March 1977 meeting between regulators and industry.
When the plan was finally approved a few weeks later, Alyeska was allowed to keep only 19,000 feet at the Valdez terminal.
Twelve years later, when the Exxon Valdez ran aground, the company had about 29,000 feet of boom on hand. But even that wasn't enough to stop the spread of oil in the Sound, even with three calm days after the accident. Cleanup experts doubt that the state's proposed 50,000 feet would have stopped much oil either, although they say it might have contained some of what eventually splattered beaches.
Alyeska "has maneuvered the government into accepting a shoddy piece of work," Al Carson, a state Department of Fish and Game official, wrote to the state pipeline office in June 1977, referring to Alyeska's contingency plan in general.
It was a month before pipeline operations were to begin, but no one was listening.
"The people with the authority were lameduck administrators by the time they got to that end of it," says Bayliss. "They got the pipeline constructed and the last thing they wanted was to be annoyed with these details about the contingency plan."
WATCHDOG THAT DIDN'T BARK
On Aug. 1, 1977, the Arco Juneau cast off from the Alyeska terminal with the first tankerload of North Slope crude. Since then, tankers have made more than 8,000 trips across the Sound. Occasional engine failures threatened catastrophe, but until the Exxon Valdez no tanker had run aground in Prince William Sound.
Even so, before March 24, millions of gallons of North Slope crude oil had spilled from tankers, but always elsewhere in Puget Sound, the Gulf of Alaska, Cook Inlet or off the coast of Hawaii.
Small spills in Port Valdez were frequent and cleanup efforts largely ineffectual, according to the DEC. Early on, DEC staffers in Valdez named a group of tankers "The Dirty Dozen" for repeated small spills caused by sloppy loading or poor maintenance.
In September 1977, barely a month after tankers began calling at Valdez, the tanker Glacier Bay leaked 500 gallons through an 18inch crack in its hull. Cleanup efforts failed to contain the oil, which washed up on beaches as far as seven miles away.
Coincidentally, scientists and government officials met in Anchorage that same day to debate oil spill responses in the aftermath of another tanker spill, the Argo Merchant, which a year before had sunk off the coast of Massachusetts, spilling its entire cargo of 7.6 million gallons of heavy industrial fuel.
On a couple of snowy days in December 1977, Bayliss and other DEC staffers spent long, dusty hours in Alyeska warehouses and its smallboat harbor checking on the oilspill gear Alyeska had promised to have in Valdez.
"The examination revealed that a large amount of the equipment . . . is missing or not in condition for immediate operation," tanker specialist Bill Publicover wrote to Alyeska later. He noted that Alyeska had violated regulations by failing to notify the state that essential equipment was broken or missing.
But that was as far as the state went. No fines were levied or charges filed. No effort whatsoever was made to force the pipeline company to do what it had promised.
The state got another chance to review Alyeska's contingency plan in 1981. DEC staffers found numerous deficiencies. But when the agency signed off on the new plan in 1983, it had done little to improve protection of Prince William Sound against a major oil spill.
DEC's Valdez staff called the plan "superficial at best." Dan Lawn, by then the DEC's chief oil spill specialist in Valdez, pointed out that Alyeska's equipment couldn't clean up oil as fast as the company said it could, nor could it reach some parts of the Sound as quickly as it claimed.
One of Alyeska's most significant cutbacks in spill response came in 1981 when it disbanded its fulltime oil spill team. The employees were absorbed into regular terminal operations or laid off. Workers in other jobs were trained to respond to spills, according to Alyeska.
DEC objected to the team's dismantling, but did nothing to force Alyeska to keep the oilspill team.
In fact, the one substantive improvement in Alyeska's response ability came about only because a loaded tanker narrowly avoided a disastrous grounding and frightened regulators into action.
On Jan. 17, 1980, 90 mph winds buffeted the Gulf of Alaska near Hinchinbrook Entrance. The tanker Prince William Sound, filled with 35 million gallons of crude oil, was about to leave the relative safety of the Entrance when a small electrical component malfunctioned. The ship went dead and its crew was unable to restart the engine.
The captain used his last bit of steam to make a Uturn in the middle of the Entrance, an act that officials later credited with saving the ship and its cargo. The tanker drifted back into the Sound.
For 17 hours it floated powerless while tugs tried to get lines on it. One tug swamped in the heavy seas, and the tanker was minutes from smashing into Fairmount Reef when it finally restarted its engine.
The close call scared both DEC and the Coast Guard. DEC added a section to the contingency plan that required tankers to be fitted with a system of lines, cables and shackles a towing package so tugs could more easily hook up in foul weather.
Though the accident made clear the potential for a catastrophic spill, the towing requirement was the only improvement in the Alyeska contingency plan for which DEC could take credit. The agency approved the plan in January 1983, with DEC administrators promising a tougher look at the plan when it came up for review again in 1986.
For the next few years, DEC staffers continued to document serious shortcomings in Alyeska's spill plan, as well as other problems at the terminal.
Lawn, the most persistent critic, told his superiors in May 1984: "Over the past several months, there has taken place a general disemboweling of the Alyeska . . . operational plan," including the oil spill response program.
Response capabilities were hurt by the loss of the dedicated spill team, Lawn said, because there weren't enough workers trained both to handle oil loading and respond to spills.
Spill equipment was outdated and training programs had been cut, he said, yet the number of tankers calling at the terminal and thus the chances for a major spill were increasing.
When the terminal opened, 34 tankers a month docked at the terminal. When Lawn was writing the memos, about 50 tankers called each month. Now about 75 a month make the stop.
On Oct. 17, 1984, Alyeska invited state and federal officials to observe a drill in which Alyeska pretended a tanker spilled oil at the dock, and surrounded the "spill" with boats, booms and skimmers.
An hour later, according to a federal account, the main boom drifted under a tanker and sank. A workboat wasn't powerful enough to pull it out of the water. Another boom was too short to reach shore, leaving a 30foot gap through which "oil" escaped.
The drill was canceled when high seas "jeopardized the safety" of Alyeska's main deepwater containment gear, which was what the company apparently planned to use in rougher water outside the port area in the event of a real spill.
"Equipment and manpower may not be appropriate for the environmental conditions of Port Valdez," the Environmental Protection Agency wrote in a critique of the drill. Keeping contingency equipment stored at various places throughout the facility slowed the response and training was inadequate, the report said.
"At this time, EPA is not confident Alyeska is prepared to efficiently respond to a major spill event," the EPA's Alaska chief, Ron Kreizenbeck, wrote in a November 1984 letter to the Coast Guard. He asked that "appropriate actions" be taken to make sure Alyeska could protect Port Valdez from a spill.
The Coast Guard dismissed Kreizenbeck's concerns as unwarranted. The Coast Guard said Alyeska had hired a new terminal superintendent and new oil spill coordinator a few weeks after the drill and was trying to do better.
But the concerns of the EPA and DEC were echoed by Alyeska's own employees, including its manager of oilspill cleanup operations, who warned that Alyeska should not attempt to clean up a spill in Prince William Sound.
James Woodle, a former Valdez Coast Guard commander who went to work for Alyeska as its marine superintendent in 1982, was worried about the age of the equipment as well as reductions in trained response personnel. "Response to any spill (beyond the general port area) should not be attempted with present equipment and personnel," he wrote to Alyeska officials in 1984. Woodle had recently been fired from Alyeska for insubordination and later lost a lawsuit challenging his termination.
"We can no longer ignore the routine monitoring of Alyeska," Lawn warned his own superiors at DEC on May 1, 1984, "unless we do not care if a major catastrophic event occurs."
TANKERS ON THE BACK BURNER
A week after Bill Ross took over as DEC commissioner in 1985, Dan Lawn's memos landed on his desk. The DEC staffers responsible for Valdez and Alyeska wanted to know what he wanted them to do, Ross recalled recently.
But Alyeska also had other serious environmental problems, including its ballast water treatment plant, which was suspected of dumping too much oily waste into Port Valdez.
"Was ballast water being discharged into the bay a worse problem than a potential oil spill?" Ross asks now. "At the time I decided I had to go with ballast water."
The contingency plan which was about to expire was considered the second most important Alyeska problem, but still scored low on Ross' list of pressing environmental issues. It fell behind placer mining, widespread oil pollution in Kenai, water quality problems in Anchorage, and subdivision development in the MatanuskaSusitna Valley.
In his 22 months as commissioner, Ross visited Valdez twice. He toured the Alyeska facility and listened to his staff's concerns about potential oil spills.
Meanwhile, Alyeska continued to spill oil and its cleanup efforts continued to fall short. A 700gallon spill from the tanker BT San Diego in April 1986 proved tough for Alyeska to pick up, even in the port.
"Cleanup equipment did not function, cleanup personnel were not available, supervision was lacking," DEC Valdez field officer Tom McCarty wrote to his superiors on April 17, 1986.
Help from contract laborers and an outside spill expert "came too late," he said, noting that much of the oil from the BT San Diego had already escaped containment.
DEC staff were already painfully aware that Alyeska's ideas of how to handle a spill looked better on paper than in reality.
"It appears to me that the major problems may not be with the technical contents of the plan but instead with the execution of the plan in the field," Paul O'Brien, the DEC's oil program manager, wrote in an October 1985 memo to Ross. He described problems with training, communications and equipment.
"It is important and necessary to address the allegations," O'Brien told Ross, "so that the public clearly sees that the department is doing something about Alyeska's (contingency) plan and response capability."
O'Brien and Ross decided Alyeska should prove it could cope with a spill. They decided to hold an "unannounced" drill the first ever required by DEC.
But the drill, when it happened in November 1986, was very much announced. Alyeska officials, saying they were worried about disrupting tanker traffic, persuaded DEC to hold the drill on a day they picked. Alyeska had all its equipment and people ready something that wouldn't be likely with a real spill.
Even with plenty of warning, Alyeska barely passed the test. The "spill response was acceptable, I feel, but not by a wide margin," concluded the DEC's Pat Cyr in an evaluation of the drill.
Cyr urged another "unannounced" drill. None ever occurred.
In June 1987, O'Brien notified Alyeska that DEC would reapprove the contingency plan, based in part on "the results" of the 1986 drill. For the first time, however, DEC told Alyeska it might withdraw approval of the plan if the company didn't do better on future spills.
"We have the option of yanking our approval if they can't show they're doing a better job in the future," said O'Brien, who left DEC in February 1989. "We made every spill that occurred from that point . . . open for scrutiny by the department in a formal sense."
Since then, DEC staffers have often complained about Alyeska's efforts to clean up even the smallest spills. But no move has ever been made to withdraw the permit.
As recently as last January, when two tankers in two weeks spewed oil through cracked hulls, DEC again bemoaned what it considered Alyeska's inept cleanup attempts.
One tanker, the Thompson Pass, was surrounded by booms when oil leaked. Alyeska, aided by calm weather, scooped up much of the 70,000 gallons that spilled. The company was lucky rather than efficient, DEC said.
The second spill, from the Cove Leader, though much smaller, eluded Alyeska cleanup crews because they couldn't get the oil corralled in time to keep most of it from running out of Port Valdez.
DEC also sought better spill preparation by requiring Alyeska to document the training of its cleanup workers, and by making the company submit spill "scenarios," which were supposed to show how Alyeska would clean up a spill as large as 200,000 barrels. Ross and O'Brien said they wanted Alyeska to show it had thought through what to do in case of a huge spill.
DEC staffers also brought up problems with aging equipment, but their supervisors decided to leave that for the next plan review in 1990.
Ross says he never considered rejecting Alyeska's contingency plan, which would have shut down the pipeline.
"It never got to the point of drawing a line in the sand," he says. "Should I have assessed the factual situation here and said, "Are we headed for deep doodoo?'
"There was no one who was really keeping track of the big picture, which is how well was this transportation system holding together. No one thought about whether a captain was drunk or the Coast Guard didn't have an adequate surveillance system."
"The question is," Ross adds, "Was the state responsible at the moment that tanker went up on the rocks? That's a question that has caused me some sleepless nights."
OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND
Although he'd run the DEC for more than two years, the first time Commissioner Dennis Kelso ever went to Valdez was March 24, the day he flew out to the stranded tanker to view the nation's worst tanker spill.
Kelso had never met Lawn, the head of his Valdez office. Nor had he ever seen the Alyeska terminal, for years the most environmentally controversial facility in Alaska and the largest of its kind in the world.
Nor had he read Alyeska's oilspill contingency plan, although he had approved it in June 1987, six months after becoming commissioner.
In fact, Kelso seemed content to let subordinates deal with air and water pollution, tankers and the relatively small oil spills at the Alyeska terminal until the Exxon Valdez turned the glare of network television cameras on the tiny community.
Since then he's been a frequent visitor, often working long stretches without a day off to get to Valdez, Cordova, Kodiak, Homer and other places affected by the spill. He has become the most visible and outspoken critic of Exxon and Alyeska.
Kelso says he purposely stayed away from Valdez before the spill.
"When I came on board, we were already engaged in some conflict with Alyeska over these other matters," Kelso said in a recent interview. "I did not want to go to the Alyeska facility under circumstances that could be misinterpreted."
A commissionerlevel visit to Valdez might be taken by Alyeska as a sign that DEC was softening its position on air and water pollution, he said, or that he didn't trust his staff's judgment.
DEC approval of Alyeska's third contingency plan had been in the final stages when Kelso became commissioner in January 1987. He concedes he didn't take as much interest in the plan as had Ross, his predecessor.
O'Brien, the state oil program manager, doesn't remember meeting with Kelso or talking to him about the plan before sending the commissioner a copy of a June 11, 1987, approval letter. The letter went out under O'Brien's signature after Kelso OK'd it.
"He was just a different commissioner than Bill Ross," O'Brien says. "Bill rolled up his sleeves and got into it. He didn't hesitate to come bashing into our offices at any time with questions.
"Denny's just a different manager. He's more removed, he lets other people take care of it."
Kelso won't discuss DEC's failure to get an adequate oil spill response plan in place before he became commissioner. He blames the failings during his time on the legislature for not paying for a contingency plan review team, and on state laws he says did not give DEC the clout to make Alyeska and other oil terminals prepare for spills.
Seven months after Kelso took office, the tanker Glacier Bay ran into a submerged rock near Nikiski in Cook Inlet, spilling 150,000 thousand gallons of crude oil just as salmon were bunching for their summer run up the inlet.
The tanker's owner, a small independent shipper called Trinidad Corp., abandoned the cleanup, forcing the Coast Guard to take over. Kelso says the state found out then it didn't have the power to make sure Trinidad could or would clean up a spill.
In 1988, DEC asked the legislature to clarify the state's contingency plan law, which it did. Until then, Kelso says, tankers and terminals may have been required to file cleanup plans, but there was no law under which DEC could make them carry out the plans.
Although the law was "fixed" nearly a year before the Exxon Valdez accident, Kelso's agency didn't use it to get tougher with Alyeska. Instead DEC chose to wait until the Alyeska plan came up for review in 1990.
Kelso says DEC didn't have money to do more. In 1988, DEC asked the legislature for more than $500,000 for contingencyplan review and enforcement. The legislature approved $150,000 to review plans.
In 1988, the legislature gave DEC money to hold five spill drills, but DEC didn't choose to hold an Alyeska drill. In fact, DEC didn't conduct most of the drills until after the Exxon Valdez spill. Then, the money was used to watch a spill drill in Kotzebue Sound and a couple of North Slope drills.
This year, just weeks after the biggest spill in U.S. history, several hundred thousand dollars for contingency plan reviews "fell out of the budget" in the last days of the legislative session, Kelso said. He didn't know why, or how hard the DEC officials responsible for the budget tried to keep it in.
But critics say Kelso is just making excuses, that DEC already had the power to make Alyeska get the equipment and personnel it needed.
"DEC has no idea what their authority is or isn't because they've never tested it," says Patti Saunders, the Anchorage environmental lawyer. "If they won't ever exercise it, it's as good as not having it. That's clearly the biggest problem DEC has."
"They almost never do surprise inspections," said Saunders, who spent several years as an environmental prosecutor for Pennsylvania's environmental protection agency. "If somebody tells them to go away, they just do."
She says DEC is afraid of the oil companies and afraid to go to court. "What they don't realize is the more you do the easier it gets."
"Plus you send a message to everybody in that industry that they're going to get nailed."
Ross concedes he never liked to go to court because of the time and expense. "But I certainly felt I stood up to the oil industry," he said. "We were pushing environmental issues as much as the body politic in Alaska could tolerate."
Even now, critics say, the DEC continues to bow to pressure from Alyeska. The company has frequently complained about Dan Lawn, the DEC's principal Alyeska watchdog.
In August, Larry Dietrick, one of Kelso's chief deputies, removed Lawn as supervisor of the Valdez office. Lawn was taken off investigations of air and water pollution at the terminal and assigned to review oil spill contingency plans.
Kelso and Dietrick vehemently deny they were pressured to move Lawn. But a June 23 memo from Lawn's Anchorage supervisor, Bill Lamoreaux, indicates DEC administrators were uncomfortable with Lawn's aggressive attitude toward Alyeska.
In the memo, Lamoreaux discussed Alyeska's objections to Lawn. He said he believed Lawn had always acted appropriately toward Alyeska, yet Lamoreaux directed Lawn to send other Valdez staffers to deal with the company and to "reduce your overall involvement in routine inspection activities."
Prince William Sound today is protected by an oilspill response system unmatched in the world. Sophisticated equipment and safety measures that critics have demanded for a dozen years are now in place. Instead of booms and skimmers and cleanup crews trying to cover the Sound from a base in Valdez, escort vessels follow each loaded tanker through the Sound, carrying hightech equipment ready for immediate deployment.
It happened because of a catastrophic oil spill the one so many had predicted.
In April, when an angry Gov. Steve Cowper threatened to shut down the pipeline terminal if the industry didn't come up with a better spill response program, oil companies dispatched top executives to Alaska to put together a new plan in six weeks.
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