State Asks $20-Million Pledge Before Exxon Valdez Enters Port
The state, seeking written assurance from Exxon Co., Tuesday presented the oil company with formal conditions it must meet before moving the crippled Exxon Valdez into state waters for repairs, including a demand that the company put up a $20-million line of credit for liability.
Exxon officials late Tuesday had just received the state’s 12-page statement and declined to comment on the demands, which, if agreed upon, would suspend a lawsuit against the company filed by the state last Friday.
But earlier, Exxon representatives said they had verbally agreed to general demands by the state. Those earlier demands had not stipulated how much liability the company would assume.
The ship on Tuesday remained about 14 miles northeast of Pyramid Cove off San Clemente Island, 43 miles northwest of San Diego. Officials were uncertain how soon the state and Exxon could reach an agreement, but test results of samples taken from the ship’s tanks Sunday and Monday are not expected for several days, they said.
The Valdez probably will enter state waters, which extend 3 miles from the California shoreline, in Pyramid Cove to remove six massive steel plates dangling from its hull. The plates, peeled back during the tanker’s 2,200-mile transit from Alaska, prevent the ship from clearing the bottom of San Diego Bay, where it is scheduled to undergo a $25-million, nine-month repair job at National Steel & Shipbuilding Co.
“These are tough conditions. But tough conditions are necessary to prevent further environmental damage by the Exxon Valdez,” State Controller Gray Davis, a member of the state Lands Commission, said late Tuesday in a statement. “The ball is now in Exxon’s court. We want ironclad guarantees that the Valdez will not damage our environment or our ports.”
Ed Manning, chief environmental counsel to Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy, also a member of the state Lands Commission, said most of the conditions are not negotiable.
“Hopefully Exxon will sign off on (them) and be responsible,” said Manning.
The state Lands Commission, Deparment of Fish and Game, Regional Water Quality Control Board and the attorney general drew up the conditions, which demand, among other things, that Exxon:
* Prove the tanker has not discharged oil, oil products or toxic materials for 24 hours, and that it won’t do so when moved to state waters.
* Conduct water quality tests in Pyramid Cove near San Clemente Island, the likely spot for removal of six steel plates dangling from the ship’s hull, before and after the repairs are done.
* Retrieve and dispose of the steel plates. The pieces are not to be dropped to the ocean floor, the state demanded.
* Offer a contingency plan for pollution prevention while the ship is in state waters. The vessel must be encircled with protective oil-collecting booms and escorted by a cleanup boat.
* Allow state representatives on board the Valdez during its operation, transit and repair.
* Assume liability for any damages, or any costs incurred by the state from “monitoring or directing the Valdez’ activities.” The company must post a $20-million line of credit in case it breaches the agreement, but Exxon’s liability could exceed that if state waters are harmed, the state said in its statement of demands.
Some of the plates hang 70 feet below the hull, and it will take divers five to seven days to cut them off. Exxon intends to catch the plates, some of which weigh nearly 35 tons, before they fall to the ocean floor, company officials said.
On Tuesday, Exxon Shipping Co. officials said they expected the steel on the ship’s hull to peel away during the trip from Alaska, but were surprised by how much it had been peeled back. Last week they voiced “complete surprise” at the presence of the peeled-back plates.
“The potential always existed in our minds that we could have the plates pull back a little,” said John Tompkins, the company’s fleet services manager. “The fact that we got what we got did come as a complete surprise.”
Despite assurances by Exxon officials that the ship will pose no environmental threat, state agencies are worried about the marine life that flourishes in San Clemente Island waters.
“The material is oil, and oil harms marine organisms. That’s where we’re concerned,” said Reed Smith, pollution response coordinator for state fish and game.
Entry Was Delayed
The tanker, which was towed from Alaska after hitting a reef and dumping 11 million gallons of crude oil along the Prince William Sound shoreline, was scheduled to enter San Diego Bay July 11 for repairs at Naasco, which built the vessel in 1986.
But the discovery July 10 of the jutting steel plates, and the slicks and discharges believed to be coming from the Valdez have delayed its entry.
Tompkins, before being notified of the formal conditions, said Exxon already had met most of the conditions imposed last week by the state fish and game department and Coast Guard.
“We’re ready to respond,” he said, adding that no discharge of a mysterious bluish substance, observed coming sporadically from the ship since last week, had been seen coming from the vessel since Sunday.
But, late Tuesday, the Coast Guard reported that a small sheen, about 15 yards by 5 feet, was seen about half a mile from the vessel early that morning.
“I don’t know if I can attribute that to the Exxon Valdez, but certainly it’s not ruled out,” Cmdr. Don Montoro said. “The clock (for the vessel to enter state waters) isn’t starting or stopping right now. It’s just on hold.”
One brownish slick and one bluish sheen, initially sighted Monday morning about 6 miles from the tanker by the same helicopter pilot who spotted last week’s 18-mile slick, could have come from the Valdez, said Smith of state Fish and Game.
But the Coast Guard, which flew over the site after learning of the slick and the sheen, found only the bluish sheen about 10 miles southwest of the vessel, in a normal shipping lane, said Lt. Larry Solberg.
Samples of the sheen are being tested by the Coast Guard laboratory in Connecticut, and the analysis, matched with results of samples from the ship’s tanks, could determine whether the sheen came from the Valdez, officials said. The analysis could take several days.
A team of scientists headed by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official late Monday finished taking samples from 15 Valdez cargo tanks, seven of which have been open to the sea since being damaged in Alaska, and have sent them to laboratories in Sorrento Valley and Arvada, Colo., for analysis. Results are expected within a week.
Officials, who last week learned the discharge coming from the Valdez contained equal parts of old, degraded crude oil and marine life, said they hope the analyses will reveal how harmful the substance may be.