September 25, 1999
BEN SPIESS, Anchorage Daily News

A citizen's watchdog group wants more protection against air pollution from the oil tanker docks in Valdez because oil production is predicted to rise, not fall.

"With more oil, we're going to need more means to protect the air in Valdez," said Stan Stephens, board member of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council, a group that oversees tanker shipping in Valdez. The RCAC board passed a unanimous resolution Friday calling for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. to install equipment to capture toxic fumes that waft off oil during tanker loading.

Two of three loading berths in Valdez have equipment to gather the fumes. Regulations limit how much oil can be loaded without vapor recovery. A third berth has no vapor recovery equipment but is seldom used.

However, that could change if BP Amoco and Atlantic Richfield Co., Alaska's two biggest oil producers, combine operations. Last week, BP released a rosy forecast that predicts that, if its $29 billion Arco takeover is approved, oil production by 2005 will be 150,000 barrels more than previously forecast.

That prediction could reverse a long decline in oil production from Alaska's North Slope fields. It also would undercut the logic the industry used in 1995 when it argued that outfitting all tanker loading berths with equipment to capture fumes would be a waste since production was declining and only a small amount of oil would be loaded at the third berth.

But the new production forecast may mean more loading at the unprotected berth three, Stephens fears, and put Alyeska in violation of federal emission regulations.

"We're committed to meeting the law," said Tracy Green, spokeswoman for Alyeska, which is owned by seven major oil companies and runs the tanker port. "If the production numbers change, we'll look at whether we need to change our equipment at berth three."

RCAC also wants Gov. Tony Knowles to take up the issue. RCAC plans to ask that a new vapor recovery system at berth three be made a part of the negotiations between the state and BP about the Arco takeover, said Stan Jones, RCAC spokesman. Knowles' spokesman Bob King said he was unsure whether the vapor recovery could be made part of the negotiations. The governor's demands have been made public and negotiations begun.

Almost all of Alaska's North Slope oil production - about 1 million barrels each day - is loaded onto tankers in Valdez, making the town one of the nation's biggest oil terminals.

Thousands of pounds of toxic fumes waft off oil during loading onto tankers at Valdez. During the 1980s, Alyeska argued that emissions were not causing significant air pollution and that elaborate vapor recovery systems were unnecessary. But government studies found something different - as much as 5,000 tons of toxic benzene came off the oil each year.

Residents complained about a blue haze and a scent of gas. Fishermen joked darkly about setting off explosions in Port Valdez by lighting a cigarette.

In a 1995 agreement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Alyeska agreed to outfit vapor recovery systems. Alyeska spent $100 million building the systems, Green said.

The oil companies balked at outfitting the third berth, arguing that by the year 2000 production would fall below 1.1 million barrels a day - the amount both sides agreed could be managed by two loading berths.

BP now forecasts that North Slope production will now reach 1.24 million barrels a day by 2004. If its Arco takeover is approved, the company plans to increase development spending in Alaska - money that will drive more production.

The 1995 agreement set up emissions quotas, amounts of oil that can be loaded at berth three without vapor recovery, to accommodate for maintenance or loading snafus at the two other berths. In 1999, Alyeska can load on average 205,000 barrels a day, said John Stone of DEC. But those quotas decrease annually, giving the company less flexibility with the law. If production rises as quotas fall, Alyeska could be in tight spot, Stephens said.

"This is the right thing to do for people in Valdez," said Stephens, a Valdez resident, tour boat operator and oil company critic. "Those companies make too much money not to protect the air quality."

* Reporter Ben Spiess can be reached at

Related Links
  • Anchorage Daily News-- Anchorage Daily News Website
  • Alyeska-- Alyeska Pipeline Company
  • EPA-- Environmental Protection Agency's Webpage


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