Unocal discovers pipeline leak at Swanson River field

Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- An underground pipe containing a mixture of warm water, oil and natural gas sprung a leak Tuesday, in the Swanson River field in Nikiski.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation says up to 2,604 gallons of the mixture spilled from a three-inch pipeline leading from a well to a holding tank. About 92 percent of the fluid was water, Unocal said.

The spill could have sprayed from a pinhole or gushed from a severed line. The initial estimate is based on the worst-case scenario, so the spill's size may turn out to be much smaller once Unocal digs around the pipe to expose it today, Unocal spokeswoman Roxanne Sinz said.

A Unocal employee patrolling the area saw nothing unusual at 7:15 a.m., but spotted an estimated 20-by-5 foot patch of stained snow above the line an hour later, DEC officials said.

The spill occurred on a gravel pad and posed no threat to foliage or streams, Sinz said.

''The big thing here was they were on top of it in fairly short order,'' said Leslie Pearson, DEC's oil spill coordinator.

Unocal shut off the line and used a vacuum truck to clean up the mixture.

The well, located about 15 miles north of Sterling, produces 1,500 barrels a day, Sinz said.

The line is in an area that has undergone renovations, with some of the pipes being lined with plastic. But this line was not upgraded, Pearson said. Unocal plans to pressure test its flow lines for leaks this summer, Sinz said.

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