The State of Alaska yesterday accused the federal government of reneging on promises to require stringent safety standards for tankers that will transport Alaskan oil.
Unless the U.S. Coast Guard enacts new regulations before oil shipments begin this summer, there will be "superspills" with unknown environmental and economic consequences, pipeline coordinator for the state or Alaska Charles Champion said yesterday.
During the controversy over the Alaska pipeline in 1972, Champion reminded the Senate Commerce Committee during hearings, then-Interior Secretary Rogers C. B. Morton testified before the Joint Economic Committee that the Alaska tankers "will be required to have segregated ballast systems, incorporating a double bottom."
Segregated ballast - or the building of separate tanks for oil and ballast water - reduces a tanker's need to deliberately discharge oil during cleaning operations.
Intentional discharges account for 90 per cent of oil pollution, dwarfing the importance of tanker accidents, maritime experts say.
Double bottoms - which provide two plates between the oil and the ocean - would prevent 87 per cent of oil pollution from groundings, according to a Coast Guard study.
As recently as last year, Champion testified, the governors of Alaska, Washington and Oregon urged the Coast Guard and Transportation Secretary William T. Coleman to require that Alaskan tankers be remodeled to provide segregated ballast.
Yet although the oil is required by law to be transported by U.S. flag tankers - supposedly safer than most foreign flag tankers - the Alaska ships "don't meet the minimum safety standards," Champion said.