Alaska wary of sending too much spill gear to Gulf

Tue Jun 22, 2010 6:41pm EDT

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* State officials worry about sending away necessary gear

* Environmental department posts supplies list

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, June 22 (Reuters) - Alaska, a significant contributor of oil spill-fighting gear to the U.S. Gulf cleanup, could be left vulnerable to its own environmental crisis if it ships away much more equipment, officials warn.

The oil-producing state, where the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill prompted a slew of safety regulations, requires oil operators to maintain a set volume of booms, skimmers and other equipment, including enough in Prince William Sound to contain 300,000 barrels of oil within 72 hours.

Now, with the BP Plc (BP.L)(BP.N) spill in its 64th day, pressure from the federal government to keep contributing equipment is intense, state officials say.

The U.S. Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency and the state are reviewing available supplies and deciding what can be safely sent away, said Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Larry Hartig.

"Anything that goes out decreases your readiness to a certain degree," Hartig said.

So far, there is no talk of cutting off equipment for the Gulf clean-up, but officials say there is a limit to what the state can send. They have yet to determine what that is.

Hartig's department has posted a list of equipment in the state and gear sent to the Gulf. It is aimed at making sure everyone knows if supplies are is becoming scarce, he said.

For now, stockpiles remain at or above legally mandated levels in Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet and the Arctic.

As of last week, Alaska had sent 124,000 feet (37,800 metres) of boom, 90,000 gallons (340,700 litres) of dispersant, four skimmers, aircraft and trained personnel.

Much remains, including 240,000 feet (73,150 metres) of boom on the North Slope, 370,000 feet (112,800 metres) in Prince William Sound and 100,000 feet (30,480 metres) in Cook Inlet.

As of Monday, 2.5 million feet (762,000 metres) of containment boom and 4 million feet (1.2 million metres) of sorbent boom had been deployed to contain the BP spill.

It is important to keep more than the minimum to ensure flexibility and protection of sensitive areas, said the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council, a watchdog group set up by Congress after the Valdez disaster.

Pleas from the Gulf for more equipment are understandable, given the magnitude of the disaster, said Roy Robertson, a project manager and drill monitor for the group.

"At some point you need to be able to clean up your own backyard, or prepare for a spill. At what point to do leave everybody else barren?" Robertson said.

His organization has warned the Coast Guard that more exports could leave Alaska vulnerable.

"It would be a tragic irony if the failure to prepare for an effective response in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in a drawdown of resources in Alaska to the extent that the oil industry became unable to mount an effective response in Prince William Sound," it said in a letter.

Alaska's equipment has been used at home since the BP spill began, officials point out. A Juneau team, for example, completed a two-month cleanup at a sunken cruise ship that recovered over 146,000 U.S. gallons (552,700 litres) of fuel. (Editing by Jeffrey Jones)

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