The oil and gas industry is vital for Alaska, accounting for more than 45,000 jobs, including many mariners who guide tankers in and out of the Port of Valdez. If we want to keep oil, gas and jobs flowing in the future, we need to do the job right. Prince William Sound must be protected. The Sound is vital not only for transport but for the tourism, fishing, and aquaculture industries. Environmental groups and others who oppose further drilling in Alaska will rightly pounce if there is another catastrophic oil spill in these waters.
Alyeska has promised the residents of Alaska for a quarter-century that they would ensure that every precaution would be taken to prevent a repeat of the Exxon Valdez disaster, in which 10.8 million gallons of oil was spread over 11,000 square miles of Prince William Sound. And, in fact, since Alyeska brought in Crowley Maritime to escort tankers and handle oil spill response, the waters of the Sound have remained pristine.
Times have changed and Alyeska's current leadership has decided to cut costs, cut corners and increase risk. Alyeska is intent on replacing Crowley with Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO), a Louisiana-based company best known in Alaska for its role in the wreck of the Kulluk oil rig.
Marginal cost savings have prevailed over common sense and the common good.
Tom Barrett, president of Alyeska, recently penned an op-ed for the Juneau paper praising the "sailor grit, commitment to safe operations, and operational excellence" of his new ECO partners.
In reality, ECO has little experience with dangerous, unpredictable weather conditions found here in Alaska. The experience they do have is lamentable.
Mr. Barrett, formerly with the Coast Guard, must be suffering amnesia. He seems to have forgotten that when his former colleagues in the Coast Guard investigated the grounding of the Kulluk oil rig in 2012 and the tug pulling her, they found the vessel poorly designed and improperly maintained by Edison Chouest.
Mr. Barrett says he's excited about "brand new, fit-for-purpose" tugs and barges that Edison Chouest is bringing to Prince William Sound. Did he forget that Robert Allan Ltd., a marine engineering consultant retained by the Prince William Sound Citizens' Advisory Council, has found serious flaws in these vessels?
Among other concerns, the Allan report found "no evidence" that the new ship's hulls had been properly tested. It was "unclear what measures had been taken," the consultant wrote, "to cope with the heavy snow and sub-freezing temperatures prevalent in the operating area in winter."
Is Mr. Barrett unaware of ECO's track record of criminality in the Antarctic? Offshore Vessels (OSV), an Edison Chouest subsidiary, admitted to illegal dumping of hazardous waste in protected waters and agreed to pay the U.S. Department of Justice a $2.1 million fine.
If the president of Alyeska doesn't know or can't remember that the company he has hired to help protect Prince William Sound has a record of illegal dumping in the Antarctic and poor vessel design and maintenance in the Arctic, then he's the wrong person for the job.
If he does know, then his ludicrous praise of ECO is unconscionable. It's a knowing deception that risks more spilled oil and more wrecked vessels in the state's waters.
The tens of thousands of people who earn a living in Alaska's oil and gas industry and those who live and work on Prince William Sound deserve better. We don't need PR spin. We need public hearings, and a public, transparent investigation of whether or not Edison Chouest Offshore is up to the job of protecting Alaska waters for future generations.
Capt. Don Marcus is president of the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots.