Norwegian oil spill highlights need for shipping safety in Alaska
The oil spill that occurred in Norway has many similarities to shipping accidents that have, or likely could occur in Alaska waters.
Norway’s authorities today reported the accident in the cold waters of the North Sea, resulting in what may be the second largest spill in Norway’s history. The incident occurred during the transfer of crude oil from a loading buoy to a tanker near an offshore oil platform known as Statfjord A.
The platform is located 200 nautical miles from the Norwegian town of Bergen, a popular coastal tourist destination. The spill amounts to approximately 140,000 gallons of oil, 10 times larger than another spill that occurred in the same area last January, when the cargo ship the Server sank.
Seabirds concentrating in the area at this time of year include northern fulmars and murres, though it is not yet known whether they or other wildlife species have been impacted.
In Alaska, local environmental groups, fishing and community interests highlight the potential for similar accidents to occur in the Beaufort, Chukchi, or Bering Seas, as plans for oil exploration expand across Alaska’s Arctic. Groups like WWF point to recent incidents such as the 2004 grounding of the freighter Selendag Ayu in the Aleutian Islands and the near-grounding of another cargo ship, the Salica Frigo, in Dutch Harbour in March of this year.
“Although this accident in Norway occurred many miles from Alaska, the problem of oil spills, both on land and offshore, is one that Alaskans know all too well,” said Margaret Williams, director of WWF’s Alaska office. “This incident is another stark reminder of the urgent need for strengthening prevention and response capacity in Alaska’s rich and productive seas.”
Statfjord is among the largest and oldest Norwegian offshore oil fields. At the time of the accident, weather conditions were normal, with the wind at 30 knots or a moderate gale.
WWF Norway’s CEO Rasmus Hansson said, “There are no guarantees against oil spills. Because of this fact, the petroleum industry must never be allowed access to coastal areas such as the Lofoten and Vesteralen archipelagos north of the Polar Circle or other vulnerable areas along the Norwegian coast.” Oil spill response activities have not been started, due to poor weather conditions.
On another coast, an equally devastating spill occurred in San Francisco in November when a container ship sideswiped the Bay Bridge, spilling 58,000 gallons of fuel oil into the water. The San Francisco spill blackened the coastline and wildlife and shut down fishing operations, requiring an expensive clean up. In the same week, severe weather struck the Black Sea, causing 5 ships to sink in the Kerch Strait and spilling over 950,000 gallons of oil.
And earlier this week, over 10,000 volunteers struggled to respond to a catastrophic oil spill as it began to wash up on the shores of South Korea, southwest of Seoul.
“It’s not a question of whether Alaska will have another oil spill – it’s a question of when. I hope we will be ready when it happens,” said Williams.
For further information:
Margaret Williams, WWF-US
t: +1 (907) 279-5504
Kathy Day, KD/PR,
t: +1 (907) 868-4884
m: +1 (907) 229-2470
In 1989 the Exxon Valdez accident resulted in 11 million gallons of crude oil spilling into the Prince William Sound, creating a level of devastation and damage that is still being dealt with today.
For more information about WWF’s work in Alaska, see www.worldwildilife.org\beringsea
Photos of the actual oil spill taken today available from the Norwegian coastal administration and the Norwegian Coastal Guard (available for free – just use photo byline as follows: Photo: Norwegian Coastal Administration/Norwegian Coastal Guard) available here.
Archive press photos of Statfjord A platform from StatoilHydro available here.