A leak in an underground flow line at one of Unocal's wells in the Swanson River oil field was found Tuesday morning. Early estimates were that between 20 and 60 barrels of produced water were spilled at the site, located in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge approximately a quarter-mile from the Swanson River.
Produced water is a mixture of water and crude oil containing 92 percent water and 8 percent oil.
According to Unocal, the leak was discovered at approximately 8:20 a.m. and was reported to DEC at 8:27 a.m. The leak was discovered by a Unocal operator who had checked the area roughly one hour before and had seen no indication of a problem, indicating only a small amount of product was spilled.
The affected flow line was immediately shut down in response to the leak. A "super sucker" vacuum truck was dispatched to the area along with a spill response team from Unocal. A responder from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) was also on the scene. Unocal was digging up the pipe Tuesday to determine the size of the leak and the exact volume of oil spilled.
According to Unocal spokesperson Roxanne Sinz, the spill occurred in a gravel area and should present little threat to the surrounding foliage and waterways.
The exact extent of environmental damage to the area is under investigation. According to DEC spokesperson Leslie Pearson, more will be known once the spill response team has a chance to further investigate the affected area, which covers an estimated 100 square feet of ground within the refuge.
"It all depends on how frozen the ground is (and) how far the water has spread," Pearson said.
The cause of the spill is also under investigation.
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