Unions say pipeline operator risks spill in Prince William Sound

first_imgCrowley Marine Services currently holds the contract to provide oil tanker escorts and spill response and prevention in Prince William Sound. Photo: Eric Keto/APRNTwo unions representing workers on tugboats and barges in Prince William Sound are calling out the operator of the trans-Alaska pipeline.They say the plan to bring in a Louisiana-based company to take over oil spill prevention and response in the Sound risks another spill, 27 years after the Exxon Valdez.Download AudioSpeaking at a press conference Tuesday morning, Alan Cote, president of the Inlandboatment’s Union (IBU), called the public campaign “unprecedented.”“I have never endeavored anything as big as this and as important as this in my career in the union,” he said.Together, the IBU and another union, the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots, represent about 230 people in Prince William Sound. That’s everyone from cooks to captains on the tugboats that escort tankers in and out of the Sound, and on the barges available 24-7 in case of a spill.They work for Crowley Marine Services, which has held at least part of the contract since the response system was first put in place after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.Earlier this spring, Crowley announced it was no longer in the running to renew its contract, raising concerns about the future of the program.This week, the company that operates the trans-Alaska pipeline, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., confirmed that it’s in final negotiations with a different company — Louisiana-based Edison Chouest Offshore — to take over.The unions have launched a campaign to stop that contract, airing ads in Anchorage and Juneau that warn darkly of Louisiana workers coming for Alaska jobs.And in part, it is a fight over jobs: Edison Chouest isn’t unionized. The current Crowley workforce is about half Alaska residents, and unions worry they’ll be replaced by Outsiders.But Cote argues the fight is bigger than that. He points out that it was an Edison Chouest tugboat that was pulling Shell’s arctic drill rig, the Kulluk, when it grounded off Kodiak in 2012. And he warns that Alyeska, and the oil majors that own it, are trying to cut costs at the expense of Prince William Sound.“I was there in 1989,” Cote said. “I saw what happened to Prince William Sound. It was devastating. I never want to see that again.”Carl Jones worked as an engineer on Crowley tugboats for about 15 years. He said there’s no good reason to replace a system that’s working with newcomers who are unfamiliar with the weather, tides, and geography of a notoriously difficult place to operate.“Everyone down there has years of training and experience,” he said. “To think that a company from outside could come in and replace 25 years of experience in one day, ten days or a hundred days — it can’t happen.”Edison Chouest did not reply to an interview request in time for this story.But Michelle Egan, a spokesperson for Alyeska, said the pipeline operator is confident the Louisiana company will meet its safety and environmental standards.“Any company that works with us has to meet the expectations of the response plan in Prince William Sound, which are very rigorous, and they have to be demonstrated repeatedly through drills and exercises,” Egan said. “So there are many opportunities for us to identify if there are gaps and then help bridge those gaps. But we expect them to be an outstanding contractor.”Egan said there’s no specific Alaska hire requirement in the contract. But Alyeska does require all contractors to employ 20 percent Alaska Native workers, and she expects Edison Chouest would hire locally, at least in part.Alyeska expects to finalize the contract this summer. Edison Chouest would take over in July 2018.last_img

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