Ocean Currents

It’s Time to Strengthen, Not Weaken, Oil Spill Prevention and Response Regulations

Backing down on oil spill prevention regulations puts Alaskan waters at risk for disaster

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© U.S. Geological Survey

It’s a new year. With a new year comes the opportunity for a fresh start, a way to promise to do better and turn over a new leaf.

Here in Alaska, the government is considering a fresh start for Alaska’s oil spill prevention and response regulations. Strong regulations help ensure that oil stays out of Alaska waters and off of Alaska’s coastlines.

But, I’m concerned that instead of strengthening these regulations, the government will weaken oil spill prevention and put our waters and coastline in harm’s way.

Rolling back oil spill prevention regulations would put Alaska’s ocean and coasts at risk for disaster. We can’t afford to take that chance.

Oil spills are still a massive threat to Alaska’s marine and coastal ecosystems, including in Arctic Alaska. As Arctic sea ice melts, more ships travel these northern seas, increasing the potential for a devastating oil spill. We know how harmful oil spills can be to our ocean and those who depend on it. And we know how much more damage could be done if a spill happened in the Arctic, where remoteness and harsh weather could make effective spill response all but impossible.

Alaska’s oil spill prevention and response regulations were put in place after the Exxon Valdez oil spill—which spilled roughly 11 million gallons of oil into the ocean, killing and injuring seabirds, sea otters, harbor seals, bald eagles, orcas and other marine wildlife. In the days that followed, the oil spread, contaminating more than 1,300 miles of Alaska’s coastline.

Three decades later, oil remains on some Prince William Sound beaches, despite extensive cleanup efforts. Marine wildlife—including birds, fish and whales—suffered losses that they still have not recovered from.

The Exxon Valdez was one of the worst human-caused environmental disasters of all time. Oil spill prevention and response regulations help ensure an oil spill like the Exxon Valdez never happens again.

Maintaining strong oil spill prevention and response regulations is critically important for our ocean and for countless individuals who rely on Alaska’s healthy marine ecosystems for their livelihoods and enjoyment, including commercial and recreational fishermen, Alaskans who practice subsistence hunting and fishing, those in the tourism industry and the visitors they bring to the state, and Alaska residents who have a deep connection to the state’s waters and coastlines.

The good news? You can speak up about this critical issue. The State of Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is seeking public input on oil spill prevention and response regulations. The public comment period is an opportunity to voice our support for ocean conservation. You can take action today by telling DEC to maintain or strengthen oil spill prevention regulations.

Many Alaskans depend directly on a healthy and vibrant marine ecosystem, and all Americans recognize Alaska for its magnificent ocean and coasts. It’s in all of our interests to prevent spills and to ensure prompt effective spill response.

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