Had the exercise been real, nearly a quarter-million barrels of fuel would have been spilled and a blaze probably would still be raging through the Kenai Pipeline Company tank farm in Nikiski.
Fortunately, the terrorist attack on the facility was not real, only part of the statewide military exercise "Northern Edge."
Nearly 100 troops attempted to protect the tank farm from simulated terrorists, with only limited success.
"It was a simulated terrorist attack, where two explosive devices were planted inside KPL," said Col. David Glines of the Alaska National Guard. "Troops found one device early on, but the second 'exploded' just after it was found."
Joe Gallagher, spokesperson for the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council, said if it were a real explosion, the hole in one of the huge fuel storage tanks would measure greater than 2-feet-by-5-feet. A fire most certainly would have ensued.
After the simulated attack and spill, fire trucks from the Nikiski Fire Department and Tesoro responded, as well as officials from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The purpose of the exercise, according to Brigadier General Steve Korenek, is that in a real emergency, the Guard would be tasked with protecting the oil industry in Alaska from attack.
"Due to Alaska's geographic location, it is a vital transit point for troops heading almost anywhere in the world, and we must protect the fuel supply," he said. "This is the first chance we've ever had to practice one of our wartime duties, and Tesoro has been very cooperative."
KPL is a subsidiary of Tesoro.
"In the long term, we've established some very important contacts," said Tesoro vice president Rodney Cason. "Hopefully it will all pay off if, God forbid, something ever happened here."
Part of the exercise was the set-up of a unified command station at the Cook Inlet Spill Prevention Response (CISPRI) office, Korenek said. Gallagher said a real attack would be considered a worst-case scenario for the industry.
Glines said he had no figure on how much the exercise cost, since it was part of the larger "Northern Edge" operation.
"It is in the realm of our normal training funds," he said.
Korenek said the troops carrying out the protection mission were from the 2nd Scout Battalion in Bethel and flew directly to Nikiski from Anchorage on helicopters early Wednesday morning.
He added that troops from the 3rd Battalion, based in Kenai, were training elsewhere in the state.
"Quite frankly, troops like to travel to different places," Korenek said.
The KPL drill was a one-day-only exercise and wrapped up on Wednesday afternoon.
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