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Highlights

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the adequacy of regulatory oversight of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), focusing on TAPS: (1) operational safety; (2) oil spill response capabilities; and (3) ability to protect the environment.

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Recommendations

Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
To help ensure that sufficient funds are available to support improved oversight, Congress may wish to consider requiring Alyeska to fully reimburse the joint offices for all reasonable oversight costs as it is now required to do for the Bureau of Land Management.
Closed - Not Implemented
Congress has taken no action on this recommendation. However, Alyeska provides up to $2 million a year and more if special projects are undertaken.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Interior To ensure that TAPS is standing up to the special engineering design and operating requirements intended to lessen the potential for oil spills, the Secretaries of the Interior and Transportation should, in cooperation with the state of Alaska, reassess the adequacy of Alyeska's corrosion prevention and detection efforts, including: (1) the cathodic protection system intended to protect the pipeline from corrosion; and (2) plans to better detect and correct internal and external corrosion along the pipeline and at the Valdez terminal.
Closed - Implemented
The joint office has completed an assessment of Alyeska's corrosion and cathodic protection programs.
Department of Transportation To ensure that TAPS is standing up to the special engineering design and operating requirements intended to lessen the potential for oil spills, the Secretaries of the Interior and Transportation should, in cooperation with the state of Alaska, reassess the adequacy of Alyeska's corrosion prevention and detection efforts, including: (1) the cathodic protection system intended to protect the pipeline from corrosion; and (2) plans to better detect and correct internal and external corrosion along the pipeline and at the Valdez terminal.
Closed - Implemented
The joint office has completed an assessment of Alyeska's corrosion and cathodic protection programs.
Department of the Interior To ensure that TAPS is standing up to the special engineering design and operating requirements intended to lessen the potential for oil spills, the Secretaries of the Interior and Transportation should, in cooperation with the state of Alaska, require Alyeska to test its leak detection system at various levels of pipeline operations to determine what levels of leakage will trigger an alarm and decide if those leak detection threshold levels meet approved design levels.
Closed - Implemented
The leak detection system has been tested several times since September 1991. Regulators witnessed the testing. Alyeska is in the process of updating its leak detection system.
Department of Transportation To ensure that TAPS is standing up to the special engineering design and operating requirements intended to lessen the potential for oil spills, the Secretaries of the Interior and Transportation should, in cooperation with the state of Alaska, require Alyeska to test its leak detection system at various levels of pipeline operations to determine what levels of leakage will trigger an alarm and decide if those leak detection threshold levels meet approved design levels.
Closed - Implemented
The leak detection system has been tested several times since September 1991. Regulators witnessed the testing. Alyeska is in the process of updating its leak detection system.
Department of the Interior The Secretary of the Interior, in cooperation with the state of Alaska, should improve monitoring and evaluation of Alyeska's efforts to assess and mitigate geologic hazards along the pipeline and at the terminal, including those intended to: (1) stabilize the rock slopes at the terminal and along mountainous sections of the pipeline; (2) safeguard permafrost; and (3) guard against potential damage to the pipeline as the result of river erosion.
Closed - Implemented
The joint office has completed a review of (1) the permafrost, (2) rock slope stability, and (3) river erosion. They are taking appropriate remedial actions as a result of this review.
Environmental Protection Agency The Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), should revise its regulations to ensure oversight of the integrity of crude oil storage tanks.
Closed - Implemented
EPA issued final regulations (40 CFR part 112) on Oil Pollution Prevention and Response; non-Transportation-related Onshore and Offshore Facilities on July 17, 2002. Section 112.7, Subpart B of these regulations implemented GAO's recommendation that EPA's existing regulations be revised to ensure oversight of the integrity of crude oil storage tanks.
Department of the Interior To ensure that resources and equipment are adequate to respond to a large-scale leak and can be promptly mobilized and deployed, the Secretary of the Interior should, in cooperation with the state of Alaska, continue to periodically review and update all components of Alyeska's oil-spill contingency plan as was done for the April 1991 plan.
Closed - Implemented
The contingency plan is constantly being updated, and the joint office is involved in that process in conjunction with witnessing drills. Quality assurance procedures have been developed.
Department of the Interior To ensure that resources and equipment are adequate to respond to a large-scale leak and can be promptly mobilized and deployed, the Secretary of the Interior should, in cooperation with the state of Alaska, actively participate and observe Alyeska's oil-spill drills and training exercises and require that Alyeska address deficiencies identified during those drills.
Closed - Implemented
In March 1992, the joint office actively participated in a full-scale drill.
Department of the Interior To ensure that resources and equipment are adequate to respond to a large-scale leak and can be promptly mobilized and deployed, the Secretary of the Interior should, in cooperation with the state of Alaska, require Alyeska to conduct a company-wide, full-scale drill that tests the leadership, coordination, communication, and equipment and personnel mobilization required to locate, contain, and clean up a large-scale oil spill.
Closed - Implemented
The joint office witnessed and actively participated in a March 1992 full-scale drill that tested the leadership, coordination, communication, equipment, and personnel mobilization required to respond.
Department of the Interior To ensure that the environmental impacts of TAPS are known and that contamination from future oil spills is minimized, the Secretary of the Interior should, in cooperation with the state of Alaska and Alyeska, review existing studies and rank research needs so that the available resources will be used to address the highest-priority environmental research needs and so that a long-term systematic monitoring strategy can be developed that assesses the pipeline's environmental impacts over time and the environmental consequences of oil spills.
Closed - Implemented
Alyeska published a bibliography of all northern spill research data. The joint office has reviewed it and finds no known gaps.
Department of the Interior To ensure that the environmental impacts of TAPS are known and that contamination from future oil spills is minimized, the Secretary of the Interior should, in cooperation with the state of Alaska and Alyeska, establish realistic cleanup standards on the basis of acceptable levels of contamination.
Closed - Not Implemented
The joint offices indicated that each site requiring cleanup will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Department of the Interior To ensure that the environmental impacts of TAPS are known and that contamination from future oil spills is minimized, the Secretary of the Interior should, in cooperation with the state of Alaska and Alyeska, determine the advantages of various technologies to effectively contain, clean up, and dispose of oil spilled on water and on land, especially in arctic and subarctic conditions.
Closed - Not Implemented
The joint offices, in conjunction with Alyeska, has assessed and evaluated various technologies. The state has established a Technology Review Council to identify, evaluate, and recommend new technologies that might have application in Alaska.
Department of the Interior The Secretaries of the Interior and Transportation and the Administrator, EPA, should, in coordination with the state of Alaska, ensure that the new joint office provides systematic, disciplined, and coordinated oversight of TAPS. At a minimum, this requires: (1) central leadership; (2) adequate funding; (3) firm commitments to participate from the primary regulators of TAPS; and (4) clear and enforceable requirements, adequate numbers of well-trained staff, and coordination among the responsible federal and state agencies.
Closed - Implemented
The joint office has obtained firm commitments from all five primary regulators. BLM and Alaska's DNR serve as the federal and state point agencies. Several other agencies coordinate with the joint office on an as needed basis.
Department of Transportation The Secretaries of the Interior and Transportation and the Administrator, EPA, should, in coordination with the state of Alaska, ensure that the new joint office provides systematic, disciplined, and coordinated oversight of TAPS. At a minimum, this requires: (1) central leadership; (2) adequate funding; (3) firm commitments to participate from the primary regulators of TAPS; and (4) clear and enforceable requirements, adequate numbers of well-trained staff, and coordination among the responsible federal and state agencies.
Closed - Implemented
The joint office has obtained firm commitments from all five primary regulators. BLM and Alaska's DNR serve as the federal and state point agencies. Several other agencies coordinate with the joint office on an as needed basis.
Environmental Protection Agency The Secretaries of the Interior and Transportation and the Administrator, EPA, should, in coordination with the state of Alaska, ensure that the new joint office provides systematic, disciplined, and coordinated oversight of TAPS. At a minimum, this requires: (1) central leadership; (2) adequate funding; (3) firm commitments to participate from the primary regulators of TAPS; and (4) clear and enforceable requirements, adequate numbers of well-trained staff, and coordination among the responsible federal and state agencies.
Closed - Implemented
The joint office has obtained firm commitments from all five primary regulators. BLM and Alaska's DNR serve as the federal and state point agencies. Several other agencies coordinate with the joint office on an as needed basis.

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