"Economic Development and the Environment"
on the Sakhalin Offshore Oil and Gas Fields II

Copyright (C) 1999 by Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University.
All rights reserved

Oil Spills: Lessons from Alaska for Sakhalin

Rick Steiner

Oil Spill Risk from Transport Tankers
Perhaps the most significant potential environmental threat from Sakhalin offshore oil and gas development is that of a major oil spill from one of the transport tankers. It is well established that the greatest risk for catastrophic oil spills is that of transportation via tanker. Given that VLCCs with 2 million barrel capacity will be calling at the offshore terminal and then sailing south along the island, the potential for a loss of an entire cargo needs to be considered. At projected production levels of 90,000 barrels/day, they expect one tanker transit every 5 - 6 days, or about 36 each operating season. In the EIA, Sakhalin Energy suggests that "the potential of a transport tanker release is classified as unlikely," and goes into little additional detail regarding risk from these shipping operations. They simply say that the transport tankers are not their responsibility. For such a serious threat as a catastrophic tanker spill along the east coast of Sakhalin or further south off Hokkaido, this is an entirely unacceptable assessment.
There are any number of scenarios for catastrophic oil spills from tankers off Sakhalin, including grounding or collisions caused by power or steering loss, navigational error, hull failure, fire/explosion, etc. Shuttle tankers can be blown off the FSO while loading, an incoming tanker can collide with a fully loaded FSO, a fully loaded tanker can lose power or steerage in an easterly gale and be blown onto shore at Sakhalin, a tanker can collide with a fishing vessel, a tanker can ground due to navigational errors, and so forth. All such scenarios need to be carefully examined and planned for in order to minimize the risk of occurring.
Although SEIC presents the image that they have conducted "risk analyses," they clearly haven't addressed all potential problems. It is clear that a thorough risk assessment should be conducted that, at a minimum, would (1) identify, evaluate, and rank the risks of oil transportation off Sakhalin and Hokkaido, (2) identify, evaluate, and rank potential risk reduction measures for the tankers, (3) develop a risk management plan for oil transport off Sakhalin and Hokkaido. The three principal components of the oil transport system that should be carefully evaluated regarding spill risk are the vessels, vessel traffic/shoreside monitoring, and the crews.
Vessels: In order to adequately evaluate and manage the risk of these operations, it will be necessary to fully characterize the fleet that will be used to haul oil from the Vitiaz' terminal: name of vessels, age, hull design, classification society, owner and operator, previous owners, insurer, status of class reports, flag and changes in flag, complete casualty history, pollution history, company vetting policies and maintenance schedules, major repairs completed, history of any and all deficiencies and violations found by classification society or flag state or port state, history of detentions and/or refusals to enter port in vessel's history, etc. SEIC has now developed a vetting procedure by which they intend to screen the quality of vessels that may load at the terminal, and they have established arrival inspection procedures. These procedures need to be thoroughly evaluated by independent analysts, and the inspections should be a matter as well for Russian maritime authorities. The company suggests that they will have the "right to reject vessels on arrival which contravene their established Port Procedures and/or Vessel Conditions." The "right to reject" is not the same as "the obligation to reject." One wonders how rigorously these standards would be enforced if, for instance, the Okha is full, and no other tankers are available to load except those of lower quality that might not be accepted otherwise. Faced the choice of either stopping production from Molikpaq, or accepting a sub-standard vessel, what will the company choose absent governmental oversight and intervention?
Regarding vessel construction standards, while both the United States and subsequently the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have now mandated the phase-in of double-hulled oil tankers over the next couple of decades, this still leaves Sakhalin and Japan exposed to unnecessary risk in the interim. Double hulls provide a significant degree of reduction in risk of oil spills in the event of grounding or collisions of loaded tankers. For instance, Conoco Oil Company, which went ahead and built all double-hulled tankers far in advance of the U.S. and IMO requirement , has had two potentially serious incidents recently, neither of which resulted in an oil spill because the vessels were double-hulled. In 1996 the "Randgrid," a double-hulled Conoco tanker with 1 million barrels of oil onboard, grounded on a rock reef in France and spilled no oil. And in 1997, a barge flotilla slammed into the "Guardian," another double-hulled Conoco tanker with 550,000 barrels of oil onboard in Louisiana, and although a 120 m gash was torn in its hull, again not one drop of oil spilled. A statement by Conoco said "in both incidents, the ships' outer hulls absorbed the brunt of the impact and, although penetrated and heavily damaged, protected the inner hulls and prevented any loss of cargo."
The government of Japan has requested the IMO to accelerate its phase-in schedule for double-hulled tankers ,which began in 1994 for any new build, and extends to 2024 for pre-existing tankers. It is recommended here that the Japanese government move ahead unilaterally, outside the IMO process, to legally require all oil shipped in territorial waters of Japan to be hauled only in double-hulled vessels as of 2005. Similarly, the Russian government should insist that only double-hulled tankers be used to transport oil from the Sakhalin project. The double hull spacing should be sufficient - the National Research Council in the U.S. recommends that inter-hull spacing be at least the beam width of the vessel divided by 15, or 2 meters, whichever is greater. Further, these tankers should be fitted with twin engines, twin rudders, and bow thrusters. This is the sort of tanker now being built by ARCO in the U.S., called the "Millennium Class Tanker.
" As the entire world tanker fleet of approximately 3,000 vessels will have to be replaced over the coming two decades or so, one wonders if this might be considered as an economic development opportunity for the Russian Far East. If Russia could develop a state-of-the-art shipbuilding capability, with the highest standards anywhere in the world, it could conceivably capture a portion of this enormous economic potential, which will run into the several hundred billion dollar range. It must be stressed that contracts for these new vessels should go to shipyards with the highest possible quality standards.
Short of requiring all shuttle tankers to be double-hulled at the outset - which clearly is the best safety precaution - the Russian government should push for a more aggressive phase-in of the new vessels and phase-out of the old, single-hulled vessels. If this is the option chosen, then there are several interim structural and operational measures that should be mandatory for all single-hulled vessels. Restrictions against carrying oil in wing tanks will provide additional protection in the event of an accident (particularly collisions), and hydrostatic balanced loading, whereby the cargo holds are not filled all the way so that in the event of a hull rupture the inward pressure of seawater is greater than the outward pressure of oil, would greatly reduce oil outflow in grounding situations. Industry representatives have stated that the costs of implementing both hydrostatic balanced loading and the use of empty wing tanks would only be about two cents per gallon of cargo hauled. Another interim possibility is to fit single-hulled cargo holds with a horizontal mid-deck, essentially resulting in a hydrostatically balanced load. Extensive testing has confirmed the validity of the mid-deck design. Such minimum interim measures should be mandatory until the entire Sakhalin fleet is double-hulled, with redundant engine and steering systems.
Another concern is that, if VLCCs with a loaded draft in excess of 20 meters will be accepted at the Vitiaz' terminal, which is in only 30 meters of water, might heavy swells lead to a dangerous situation where a fully loaded, single-hulled VLCC could actually bottom-out in wave troughs while moored alongside the Okha? Ten meters of clearance in large sea swells does not give much room for comfort.
Regarding the pre-loading vessel inspections at the FSO, it is important to understand just how thorough such inspections will be - will they include the tanker's inert gas system operability, the oily water separator, fire fighting systems, cargo pump emergency shut- down systems, tank level alarms, combustible gas detectors, steering gear systems and failure alarms, back up steering gear operability, emergency generator operability, vent pipes, pumproom shutdowns and explosion proofing, navigation equipment, engine room systems, and so forth?
Vessel Traffic/Shoreside Monitoring: Another concern is the vessel traffic situation off Sakhalin and Hokkaido. As the EIA for the project states that northeast Sakhalin has fog about 1/2 of summer days when these tankers will be navigating the area, the vessel traffic situation needs to be thoroughly analyzed and routing agreements should be established. These agreements could include at a minimum a traffic lane with a north - south traffic separation scheme that is located as far from shore as possible. This assessment should also identify what shoreside monitoring system would enhance the safety of navigation both off Sakhalin and off Japan - a vessel traffic service (VTS), an automated dependent surveillance system (ADSS), vessel transponders and shoreside tracking, and/or tug escorts in hazardous seaways. Additional navigation aids should be considered along the entire route of the transit tankers.
Of critical concern, and again not addressed at all to date by the company or apparently by the government, is how to render assistance to disabled tankers. A plan should be developed that would identify and evaluate existing tugs and emergency towing and salvage capabilities both in Russia and Japan, and include an assessment of various alternative equipment and deployments that would improve the safety of the system. Protocols should be clearly established whereby tanker masters are required to immediately notify Russian and/or Japanese authorities of any loss of power or steerage, so as to avoid potentially disastrous delays in dispatching rescue tugs to the scene. Emergency tow packages similar to those employed in Prince William Sound, Alaska should be required on all transport tankers and the FSO, and the salvage assets of Sakhalin and Hokkaido should be assessed.
Also, communication protocols should be established whereby loaded tankers are required to report positions along their transit route to both Russian and Japanese government authorities.
Crew: Finally, because over 80% of maritime disasters are caused by human error, it is incumbent upon the governments to insist on the highest possible crew standards for the shuttle tankers and the FSO. The IMO Standards for Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) Convention of 1984 provides just the bare minimum, and Russia and Japan should insist on higher crew standards. In general, the quality of seafarers has eroded over the past few decades. Crew complements are now about 1/2 of what they were just 20 years ago, which causes increased fatigue, additional stress, reduced on-board training and maintenance time, decreased morale, and less ability to respond to emergencies. Also, many ship owners are now relying on manning agencies to supply crew, who generally supply the least expensive, least experienced, multinational crews that often have trouble simply communicating with one another in a common language.