Alaska's oil spill response technology is outdated and underfunded, lawmakers warned

A Valdez-based citizen watchdog group told legislators Tuesday that the state's arsenal of oil-response equipment lags behind modern technology and the state division that enforces the rules for preventing and cleaning up spills has an "ever-worsening funding shortage."

The Valdez group, the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Council, and its counterpart, the Kenai-based Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council, were among those testifying at a state Senate Resources Committee hearing in Anchorage on Tuesday. The purpose of the hearing was to examine whether the state's rules for oil and gas developers are adequate to prevent and clean up spills.

The Kenai-based council said it hired a contractor this summer to review the adequacy of the state's oil-spill prevention and cleanup rules. Several state agencies said they are also looking for potential weak spots in their regulations in light of BP's spills from corroded pipes on the North Slope in 2006 and BP's massive offshore oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this year.

The Valdez-based council argued for inflation-proofing the state Division of Spill Prevention and Response's budget and it requested stricter rules to ensure that spill responders' equipment is the best available.

Congress mandated the two watchdog councils after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound.

The state's spill division chief agreed with the Valdez-based group that his budget could be in trouble in the future. For spill response, oil producers pay a surcharge to the state on every barrel of oil, but with North Slope production declining, the total revenue collected has fallen, too. The division hasn't had to cut its budget yet, due to legislative intervention, said the division chief, Larry Dietrick.

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