Valdez has had its share of challenges. It was founded by unscrupulous steamship companies in 1898 who falsely claimed that a route across the Valdez Glacier was an excellent way to reach the Klondike gold fields. It wasn’t. In 1907 it lost out on becoming the railroad link to the Kennecott Copper Mine, one of the richest copper deposits in North America, now closed. In 1964 the four minute, 38 second, 9.2 megathrust earthquake liquified the glacial silt forming the town’s foundation and caused a 30 foot high tsunami in Valdez Bay. Totally destroyed, the town was rebuilt four miles away on stable ground. Finally, in 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground on the Bligh Reef 25 miles from the port and caused a major oil spill that devastated marine life in the area. Eleven of the 55 million gallons of oil in the Exxon Valdez holds escaped into the Prince William Sound.
According to Friends of the Earth, the Port of Valdez is now the safest oil tanker transport location in the US because of a double tug escort system (operated by Crowley) and enhanced oil spill response capabilities, as well as due to the double hull oil tankers and barges that are now used in the oil transport industry. SERVS (Ship Escort/Response Vessel System) includes two high-powered tugs which assist tankers with safe navigation through Prince William Sound and which have on-board equipment in case of oil spills. One, the enhanced escort tractor tug is tethered to the tanker and the second follows with the prevention and response equipment.
The Port of Valdez is located at the head of a deep fjord in Prince William Sound that reaches 11 miles inland, and is the northernmost year-round ice free port in North America. According to the Wunderground, it is the snowiest place at sea level in the world with an average of 320 inches each year. The Port includes the Valdez Container Terminal, the Grain Terminal and the Valdez Marine Terminal.
The City of Valdez owns and operates the Container and Grain terminals. There is a 700 foot floating concrete dock that extends to 1,200 feet utilizing dolphins. Water depth is 50 feet. The dock can handle containerized, RO/RO and LO/LO operations. The grain terminal includes nine silos with a total capacity of 522,000 bushels.
The 1,000 acre Valdez Marine Terminal is located at the southern terminus of the Trans Alaska Pipeline which begins in Prudhoe Bay. It has 18 storage tanks, each with a capacity of 510,000 barrels of crude oil (total capacity equals 9.18 million barrels); an average of four oil tankers depart weekly for refineries loaded with oil. Since 1977, when the pipeline opened, more than 20,000 tankers have transited through the Port. As reported by Reuters in January, on a daily basis the 800 mile pipeline delivers 550,000 thousand barrels of oil. According to Alyeska, the operator of the pipeline, flow of crude oil can be turned off within four minutes, if necessary. (The pipeline itself is owned by a consortium of BP Pipelines, ConocoPhillips Transportation, ExxonMobil Pipeline and Unocal Pipeline).
The floating berth mentioned above can handle tanker ships of 16,000 to 12,000 deadweight tons. A fixed berth accommodates tankers up to 250,000 deadweight tons. Two additional fixed berths can each process tankers up to 265,000 deadweight tons. Gravity-fed oil is transported to ships and the hydraulic arms can load up to 110,000 barrels per hour. Each ship is surrounded by an oil-spill containment boom during the loading process.
The Ballast Water Treatment Plant processes ballast to remove any oil that may exist. Most tankers today separate their water and cargo tanks, but some continue to carry ballast and crude oil in the same compartment.
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