Report praised response to pipeline spill

Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A government report on the response to the October shooting of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline praises the spill cleanup but notes areas for improvement.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. generally did a good job, said Rhea DoBosh, a spokeswoman for the state-federal Joint Pipeline Office, which worked on the review. Altogether nine federal and state agencies -- including the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- evaluated the handling of the spill with Alyeska.

Independent pipeline watchdog Richard Fineberg of Fairbanks, however, said it should not have taken Alyeska 36 hours to stop oil from spurting out of the bullet hole.

''The authors of this toothless report are clearly too close to see the forest for the oil-blackened trees they were supposed to protect,'' Fineberg told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

About 285,600 gallons of oil spilled from the pipeline after Daniel Carson Lewis allegedly shot it on Oct. 4 near Livengood 75 miles north of Fairbanks. It was the second largest spill in the 800-mile line and the first time a bullet pierced it in nearly 25 years of operation.

A prime reason for the time it took to clamp the spill was that oil was spurting out at over 500 pounds per square inch. The pressure created a serious hazard for spill responders, with highly explosive vapors present, the report said.

A so-called ''bullet hole'' clamp could have withstood the pressure but would have required workers to manually place it into position over the stream of oil, according to the report.

Alyeska's new hydraulic clamp could be applied without placing workers in the area of the spray. ''However, the pressure at the leak was higher than the pressure that had been used during testing and training for application of the clamp,'' the report noted.

Therefore, Alyeska drained down the intense pressure before clamping the bullet hole.

''Review of decision processes and the sequence of events reveals that worker safety was the highest priority during decision-making,'' the report said. ''Those decisions were unassailable.''

The report, however, recommends that training, procedures and equipment be further developed. ''We're going to sit down with (Alyeska) pretty quickly and discuss the issue of clamps,'' said Ed Meggert of DEC.

Curtis Thomas, a spokesman for Alyeska, said the company intends to learn from the incident by improving the clamps and the system used to drain pressure from the line.

''We are looking at ways to modify those clamps, make them operate better, maybe put them in different locations,'' he said. ''We haven't ruled anything out.''

The report also raised concerns about how Alyeska relieved pipeline pressure before clamping the hole. In January, engineers discovered a stretch of the line shifted 13 inches on anchor supports near Pump Station Five. The shifting has been attributed to how Alyeska reacted to the puncture.

Regulators said this issue will be addressed in a separate review on pipeline shifting.

The report also said Alyeska can improve communications with emergency teams and community agencies. The report recommends Alyeska include local fire departments in future emergency training.

The oil was contained to within a quarter mile of the leak and about 176,000 gallons of the 285,600 gallons of spilled oil have been recovered.

Most of the removal of contaminated soils and vegetation is done.

Meanwhile, the man accused of shooting the pipeline is on trial in federal court in Fairbanks for one federal count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Lewis also faces state criminal charges and is scheduled for a September trial.



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