While the Exxon Valdez sits crippled on a reef, burping oil into Prince William Sound, Alaska's top oil producers asked the U.S. Coast Guard Friday to ease restrictions on tanker traffic in Valdez Harbor.
Exxon USA, BP Alaska and ARCO Alaska said the safety measures implemented after last week's accident which caused the nation's largest spill should be lifted because the West Coast is in desperate need of crude oil.
Lodwrick M. Cook, chairman and chief executive officer of Arco, said a plan to expedite Alaska crude shipments is urgently needed. He said the three major shippers are working with the Coast Guard to assure safe movement of tankers in and out of Valdez.
Since the port was reopened Tuesday, the Coast Guard has allowed only daylight tanker travel. All ships must be escorted by two tugs and be under the supervision of a harbor pilot.
The Coast Guard is not prepared to ease any restrictions, according to Coast Guard spokesman Ken Freeze.
"We're not going to change that," he said. "These measures were not undertaken lightly but were mandated by our responsibility to the public," he said.
Freeze said even empty tankers entering the harbor could pose a danger. The ship's fuel and ballast water, while not as damaging as crude oil, would pose a serious environmental problem if leaked into the Sound.
Only five tankers have left Valdez since the Exxon Valdez ran aground March 24, Cook said, noting that usually three to four tankers leave the port each day.
Alaska oil supplies about 50 percent of the crude refined and consumed on the West Coast. Arco operates two refineries one in Carson, Calif., and one in Cherry Point, Wash. and its North Slope oil accounts for about a third of the petroleum products sold in California.
Arco estimates about 12 million barrels of crude have gone undelivered.
Wholesale gasoline prices on the West Coast have jumped 15 cents a gallon. Consumption has gone up as people have been rushing to top off their tanks, scared that the Valdez tanker spill will cut off supplies, according to The Associated Press.
Cook said the companies are urging the Coast Guard to allow twoatatime departures of loaded tankers from Valdez, under tug escort, instead of individually escorted departures.
"We share the Coast Guard's concern for a safe and conservative operation of the port," Cook said. "But reasonable action is needed now."
He suggested a state pilot could be placed aboard each ship from the moment it enters Prince William Sound until the time it leaves. Now, state pilots only guide the tankers in and out of the harbor and the Narrows out to Rocky Point.
On Thursday, BP notified its customers it will be able to deliver only about 80 percent of the oil it had promised to supply in April, said John Andes, a BP spokesman in Cleveland.
Exxon also announced it would have to cut shipments to customers by 15 to 20 percent.
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