The article ``Exxon Valdez: What Lessons?,'' March 24, reports on the rather negative view environmentalists have of oil tankers. But let's look at the record of a whole series of improvements made on oil-spill prevention and cleanup in the five years since the spill in Prince William Sound in Alaska.
In the United States, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, a comprehensive law that sets out the responsibilities of oil companies and the government to prevent spills and how to proceed when they occur. This measure is costly. Compliance is under way in accord with Coast Guard regulations, but it will take years to accomplish all the requirements.
On the world scene, international organizations have adopted measures to improve crew training, upgrade maintenance, and replace aging tankers.
After studying precisely what needed to be done to deal with major spills, the US petroleum industry formed the Marine Spill Response Corporation, a billion-dollar enterprise. It is operational with five spill response centers on our coasts, new equipment, and trained personnel fully capable of responding to major spills. This capability is recognized by the Coast Guard as sufficient to address ``worst case discharges.''
In Alaska, Alyeska (operator of the trans-Alaskan pipeline and port of Valdez) adopted new accident prevention procedures, including the requirement that loaded tankers leaving the port of Valdez be escorted in Prince William Sound by two vessels equipped with spill response equipment. A Coast Guard study has endorsed this concept, concluding that these escort/response vessels could control a tanker and tow it if a loss of propulsive power occurred. Operations have been reviewed and improved, and there have been no spill incidents in these past five years in Prince William Sound.
As for the US tanker fleet, double-hull tankers are in use and were in use before the Valdez spill, and more have been ordered by shippers. Meanwhile, measures such as upgrading tankers are being taken to meet legal requirements.
So much has been accomplished and commitments have been made for further improvements in spill prevention and cleanup. William F. O'Keefe, Washington American Petroleum Institute
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