The Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council (Cook Inlet RCAC), Alaska Department of Environment Conservation (ADEC) and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) have launched the Cook Inlet Risk Assessment in 2011 to examine the risk of oil spills posed by the marine vessels transiting through, near and/or servicing the region. The goal of the risk assessment is to answer the following questions:
The risk assessment will examine the current types and sizes of vessels plying Cook Inlet and dominant accident types in attempt to identify future oil spill risks based on vessel size, type and frequency. The first phase of the risk assessment will be limited to a semi-qualitative analysis. The study will rely primarily on historical data, expert opinion, and lessons learned from prior studies. Study results will provide a basis for the identification and initial ranking of risk reduction measures.
Recent years have seen a trend in risk assessment towards extensive engagement of stakeholders throughout the process of defining and analyzing risks and identifying risk reduction measures.
Initial funding for the risk assessment was secured through a legislative appropriation by State of Alaska and is being administered by the Kenai Peninsula Borough and Cook Inlet RCAC.
The interest in maintaining safe maritime navigation in the Cook Inlet Regions has been a high priority for the Cook Inlet RCAC, ADEC and USCG. In 1999, the Cook Inlet RCAC sponsored a Safety of Navigation Forum with the goal of identifying steps that can be taken to prevent oil spills. In 2000, the USCG sponsored a Ports and Waterway Safety Assessment of the Cook Inlet Region, which identified risks and potential mitigation measures.
The February 2, 2006 grounding and oil spill from the Tank Vessel (T/V) Seabulk Pride reinforced the need for safe navigation and operations. The T/V Seabulk Pride was loading oil from Tesoro’s refinery at Nikiski when the vessel broke away from the Kenai Pipeline Company dock during heavy ice conditions. Its crew could not start its engine before it grounded off the East Forelands of the Kenai Peninsula.
In February 2007, the Cook Inlet RCAC sponsored the Cook Inlet Navigational Safety Forum with the goal to share information about Cook Inlet navigational risks and discuss possible interventions to reduce the risk of vessel casualties and oil spills. The primary consensus points reached at the forum were:
(1) Cook Inlet RCAC should move forward with a risk assessment,
(2) Engaging in the political process will be necessary to obtain funding, and
(3) Public participation and outreach will be critical to the success of the risk assessment.
A risk assessment is a systematic approach used to evaluate the level of safety of a complex system and to identify appropriate safety improvements. It is an established engineering discipline and has been used in the maritime industry in the past with varying degrees of success. The ADEC and USCG have had experience with maritime risk assessments (Prince William Sound and Aleutian Islands), and both understand the complexity of the problem at hand, as well as the need for a well-designed process that will ensure a successful outcome.