BLUEPRINT FOR DISASTER: EMPTY PROMISES
COAST GUARD BOWED TO INDUSTRY PRESSURE
By STAN JONES
Anchorage Daily News reporter
Anchorage Daily News
ANCHORAGE- In the 1970s, the oil industry and its friends in government were ready to promise almost anything in return for permission to turn on the pumps at Prudhoe Bay.
One of those promises was that, under tough U.S. Coast Guard oversight, tankers that would haul up to 2 million barrels of oil a day through Prince William Sound would be the safest in the world.
"I consider our primary concern with regard to Valdez Prince William Sound to be the prevention of a catastrophic oil spill," said Coast Guard Rear Adm. John B. Hayes to a fishermen's convention in Cordova in April 1977.
Hayes said the Coast Guard would among other things propose that double bottoms be required on tankers to reduce the chances of their poisonous cargo fouling the Sound in a grounding.
Lt. Cmdr. Ken Thompson, a Hayes subordinate, told the conference that a Coast Guard traffic system would ensure the tankers didn't collide with each other or with the rocks and reefs lining the route into the Gulf of Alaska.
"Valdez Narrows and Arm will be covered by a radar at Potato Point," Thompson said. "The radar to be installed is among the most sophisticated available."
But these and other Coast Guard commitments were abandoned soon after oil began flowing through the pipeline in August 1977.
When the Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef on March 24 it had one bottom, not two. The resulting 11milliongallon spill, the Coast Guard itself recently estimated, was up to 21|2 times larger than it would have been if the ship had had a double bottom.
And the operators on duty in the Coast Guard's Valdez Vessel Traffic Center said the 987foot vessel didn't even register on their radar screens as it plowed toward disaster, although Blig