The planning and construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and the Alyeska Oil Terminal in Valdez in the 1970s were highly controversial. Disputes over the pipeline right-of-way and exemptions from environmental restrictions resulted in many lawsuits. Controversies among the federal government, state of Alaska, the oil industry, and citizen stakeholders over oil spill prevention and response capabilities, as well over the adequacy of oil spill contingency plans, continued throughout the 1980s.
The EXXON Valdez oil spill, America’s largest, focused the country’s attention on the safety of transporting petroleum and further politicized the situation in Prince William Sound (PWS). In this environment, Alaskan legislation and the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990 were passed, both of which mandated that the risks of oil spill be reduced and that prevention and response capabilities be improved. A significant risk reduction strategy was mandated that escort tugs be used to assist tankers in cases of emergency, to warn tankers of impending dangers, and to provide immediate spill response capability.
In 1995, the shippers who transport oil from the port of Valdez by tanker contracted with the Norwegian classification society,1 Det Norske Veritas (DNV) and evaluate existing and proposed measures for reducing the risk of oil spills from the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) in the PWS. The assessment was undertaken in response to a requirement by the state of Alaska that “the best available technology” be used to develop contingency plans for potential oil spills (Alaska Law AS 46.04.030 (e)) and that proposals for measures to reduce risks be based on sound analysis. The shippers (Arco Marine Inc., BP Oil Shipping Company, USA; Chevron Shipping Company; Sea River Maritime, Inc; and Tesoro Alaska Petroleum Company) proposed to the PWS Regional Citizens’ Advisory
Council (RCAC)2 that they jointly sponsor the project. Under the auspices of RCAC, a steering committee of stakeholders3 was formed to oversee the project. As a result of discussions in the steering committee, George Washington University (GWU), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and LeMoyne College were added as subcontractors to DNV to complete the study team.
Halfway through the project, the PWS steering committee created a subgroup called the study group, and delegated it the responsibility to review, discuss and make recommendations on topics ranging from the first conceptual draft of the Risk Management Plan to reviewing routine administrative and contractual matters. The study group consisted of three representatives of the shippers and one representative of each of the following groups: RCAC, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Ship Escort and Response Vessel System. The study group reviewed the report that was produced by the study team and produced the Prince William Sound, Alaska, Risk Assessment Study (the PWS Study), which was approved by the steering committee in December 1996.
The following objectives were established by the PWS steering committee: (1) to identify and evaluate the risks of oil transportation in PWS, (2) to identify, evaluate, and rank proposed risk reduction measures, and (3) to develop a risk management plan and risk management tools that could be used to support a risk management program (PWS Study, Exec. Sum. p. 1). The PWS Study addresses the first two objectives and contains information for addressing the third.
PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND RISK ASSESSMENT STUDY
The final report (the PWS Study) was designed as a stand-alone document of more than 300 pages. It contains basic information on the background and history of the study, the marine transportation system, the methods used for risk assessment (including limited descriptions of assumptions, data input, risk calculations, and the data gathering process), results, and conclusions and recommendations. Two additional volumes, Technical Documentation (TD) of more than 1,600 pages, include supporting material necessary to a full understanding and evaluation of the risk assessment methods and models, the procedures used to gather the information used to model risk calculations, and the conclusions regarding risk and risk reduction measures. The TD includes detailed descriptions of the PWS marine transportation system, all of the data collection tools (questionnaires), as well as discussions of the modeling assumptions and results.
In a letter dated May 18, 1995, the PWS steering committee requested that a “peer review” of the PWS Study be conducted by the National Research Council (NRC). The NRC assigned this task to a panel of the Marine Board’s Committee on Risk Assessment
and Management of Marine Systems, hereinafter called the NRC committee. This report is the result of their review.
A peer review is a standard method of evaluating research (for example, OSTP, 1996.) The NRC’s criteria for its reports (NRC, 1989a) are summarized below:
Are the conclusions and recommendations adequately supported by evidence, analysis and argument?
Are the data and analyses handled competently?
Are sensitive policy issues treated with proper care?
Are the exposition and organization of the report effective?
Is the report fair?
Because the NRC committee’s report would itself be a peer review, the NRC committee developed the following review and evaluation criteria:
Constraints. Is there a clear statement of the constraints placed on the PWS contractor team and a clear statement of the impacts of these constraints?
Data Collection. Are the data collection procedures clearly explained? Are they based on established methods?
Key Factors. Are all key factors included in the analyses? Is a credible explanation given for any that are not?
Assumptions. Are all assumptions identified and explained? Can the effects of these assumptions be traced through the analyses?
Methodologies. Are the analytic tools based on established procedures, or, if not, are they clearly explained and supported? Do they connect with the “real world”?
Transparency. Can the logic be followed readily? Is the influence of specific inputs and approaches, such as simulations, identified? In the words of the NRC guidelines, are the data and analyses handled competently?
Uncertainties. Are major uncertainties created by data collection processes or other factors identified?
Sensitivity Analyses. Were sensitivity analyses done regarding key assumptions and uncertainties?
Results. Do the results follow from the methods, the data presented, and the assumptions?
Conclusions and Recommendations. Are the conclusions and recommendations consistent with the study results? Are the conclusions consistent with the results of the sensitivity analyses? Are the conclusions and recommendations adequately supported by evidence, analyses, and arguments?
Limitations. What limitations, uncertainties, or other weaknesses should be identified to the PWS steering committee?
These criteria have been applied wherever appropriate.