EDITORIAL: Sound Protection
Alaska’s congressional delegation introduced legislation earlier this month to maintain an essential component of the system that keeps Prince William Sound safe from another oil spill like the one that erupted from the Exxon Valdez tanker 20 years ago.
In the spring of 1989, this newspaper and those across the nation featured daily portraits of the liquid devastation sloshing around the sound and smearing its way westward down Alaska’s coastline. The crude oil badly oiled beaches as far distant as Kodiak Island.
Such an accident should never happen again. Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich have introduced legislation to help ensure it doesn’t. They want Congress to require all oil tankers in the sound to be escorted by at least two tugboats.
That’s the current practice, and there is no indication that the tanker companies want to change it.
But it’s not what the law requires. The law exempts double-hulled oil tankers from the two-tug rule.
Congress, in response to the 1989 spill, required that all tankers eventually be double-hulled. But it dropped the two-escort requirement.
The last single-hulled tanker serving the oil pipeline terminal in Valdez should retire in 2012. At that point, the legal mandate for two escorts won’t apply to any tanker crossing the sound.
Double-hulled tankers are safer than single-hulled. However, a hard hit on a rock could break through both walls. Two escort tugs are an absolutely essential tool to prevent such a hit. Several close calls since 1989 have demonstrated that fact. Tug escorts were able to prevent accidents when tankers lost power, lost steering, broke tethers and endangered fishing boats.
They must accompany the tankers, and two are necessary, given the often heavy winds and currents.
The U.S. Senate should pass the Alaska delegation’s bill or similar language being advocated by Rep. Don Young in the House, and it should do so before someone cuts a corner we all end up regretting.
Delegation works to mandate two tugs for every tanker