On March 24, 1989, the oil tanker, Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. The ill-fated tanker spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the water and created an environmental disaster that ranks among the worst in the history of North America. The incident also changed forever the way crude oil is transported in the United States.
In the aftermath of the Exxon oil spill, Congress crafted a comprehensive oil spill prevention bill. The Oil Pollution Act (OPA) of 1990 is the result of public hearings around the state where citizens and local government leaders demanded public involvement in the oversight of oil transportation.
Many people felt that government and industry representatives had become too comfortable in their positions and that complacency was a contributing factor in the Exxon Valdez spill. The 1990 Alaska Oil Spill Commission Report, while discussing the Exxon spill, states, “success bred complacency; complacency bred neglect; neglect increased the risk until the right combination of errors led to disaster.”
Congress wanted to insure that the sense of complacency that led to the spill in Prince William Sound would not be repeated in the future. Under OPA 90, two regional citizen advisory councils were created – one for the Prince William Sound area and one for Cook Inlet. Congress envisioned the councils as a mechanism to foster long-term partnerships between industry, government, and Alaska’s coastal communities.
To ensure broad representation, Congress drew up the guidelines for selecting voting members on the councils. The Cook Inlet RCAC Board of Directors is comprised of 13 members, each representing a specific interest or community. The cities of Anchorage, Kenai, Homer, Seldovia, and Kodiak each have a seat on the Council, as does the Kodiak Island Borough and the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
Interest groups represented on the Cook Inlet RCAC Board of Directors include Alaska native organizations, state chamber of commerce (tourism), environmental groups, recreational groups, commercial fishing groups, and aquaculture associations. In addition, Cook Inlet RCAC includes ex-officio members (non-voting) who represent the U.S. Coast Guard, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management; Alaska Department of Natural Resources, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The citizens that fill the seats on the Board of Directors bring to the table a wealth of information, expertise, and experience that has gone a long way towards protecting the waters of Cook Inlet from oil pollution. Since 1990, Cook Inlet RCAC has been the driving force behind improved oil spill prevention and response measures for Cook Inlet. Cook Inlet RCAC has also been a leader in monitoring the waters of the Inlet for any sign of pollution from oil industry activities.
Cook Inlet RCAC’s success can be traced to citizen participation. Each municipality, borough, and interest group represented on the Board of Directors is actively involved in the decisions that lead to safer oil transportation and production. Cook Inlet RCAC depends on the efforts of volunteers. Much of the Council’s work is done through three committees: the Environmental Monitoring Committee (EMC), the Protocol Control Committee, and the Prevention, Response, Operations and Safety (PROPS) Committee. The committees and staff design and implement work plans, and formulate advice and recommendations for the board’s consideration. Each committee is assisted by Cook Inlet RCAC staff. When everyone comes together and works toward a common goal, the result is an environmentally sound Cook Inlet that will sustain future generations of Alaskans for years to come.
OPA 90 directs the Council in its efforts to improve marine transportation and oil facility operations, and mandates action to that end. Cook Inlet RCAC must provide advice and recommendations on policies, permits and site-specific regulations for terminal and tanker operations and maintenance; monitor environmental impacts of the operation of terminals and tankers; monitor terminals and tanker operations and maintenance that may affect the environment near terminals; review the adequacy of oil-spill prevention and contingency plans for terminals and tankers; provide advice and recommendations on port operations, policies and practices; and review standards for tankers bound for, loading at, or exiting from oil terminals, among other duties.
Charter Funding Companies
Cook Inlet RCAC receives base annual funding per OPA 90 from the operators in Cook Inlet. The companies, required to file an oil spill contingency plan for the Cook Inlet region under OPA 90, represent what are known as the Charter Funding Companies: Tesoro Alaska Petroleum, Cook Inlet Energy, ConocoPhillips, Furie Operating Alaska, Hilcorp Alaska LLC, and Marathon Oil Company.