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Another Mega-Spill but Still No Action : Last Week's Norwegian Tanker Accident Raises Fears of What'll Happen Next Time

June 18, 1990

There are no easy or cheap solutions to the frightening problem of tanker spills, only complex and relatively expensive ones.

But almost all the complex and expensive ones are considerably better than the hasty solutions that will inevitably be proposed if the public becomes even more frightened about the specter of a supertanker spill spoiling an entire coastline or befouling a whole bay. Irresponsible scaremongering? Consider the mess, political as well as ecological, in Alaska.

It's time for serious anti-spill action. Last week more than 4 million gallons of oil gushed out of the stricken tanker Mega Borg and invaded the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The accident revived memo- ries of the American Trader spill off Huntington Beach in February, not to mention the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Exxon is out of pocket about $2 billion (and counting) for that one. How much better it would have been for that company and the industry as a whole--not to mention the Alaskan environment--if new regulations and procedures had been in place to minimize spill damage and to maximize the effectiveness of cleanups.

Many experts agree that all new tankers should be fitted with crack-resistant double hulls. It's still not required. Strong state and federal legislation to guarantee adequate accident-contingency plans and appropriate mop-up technology still has not been passed.

In California, calls to the state Legislature for a new state oil-spill office and a special fund for spill-disaster operations have not been acted upon; the job is still consigned to an interagency committee that's in over its head.

Oil is an important energy material, and the oil industry has every right to want to be able to conduct its business operations profitably and without undue burden. But every business operates within imposed restrictions, regulates itself to some extent and does business within the wider framework of the overall public interest. Another Exxon Valdez would almost certainly lead to panicky remedial legislation that the industry might find far more odious than anything currently being proposed.

TROUBLED WATERS

Recent major tanker incidents (estimates of oil spills in gallons) Mega Borg: 4 million American Trader: 394,000 Exxon Valdez: 11 million

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