Warm weather mires refuge pipeline project

Posted: Monday, March 19, 2001

KENAI (AP) -- Marathon Oil Co. had hoped frozen ground would minimize the impact of a pipeline being built through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge this winter.

But construction workers have struggled with an early thaw, and environmental officials called a meeting last week to get the company to comply with environmental standards.

''They dig the trench, install the pipeline and the trench fills with water,'' said Jim Hall, deputy refuge manager. ''They backfill, and the water runs out of the trench. They needed a silt fence to keep the silt within the right of way.''

Marathon is building the gas pipeline for the Wolf Creek No. 2 well about 10 miles north of Sterling.

Arco drilled the well in the 1980s, but did not find commercial quantities of oil. Marathon reworked it in 1999 and found enough natural gas to warrant development. The $3 million pipeline will run 5.5 miles from the well to the Beaver Creek Field.

''We were concerned about silt control and about stabilizing hills where they had finished installing the pipeline, so we wouldn't get erosion,'' Hall said.

He said the pipeline crosses three small creeks that empty into Wolf Lake and Beaver Creek, a tributary to the Kenai River. Biologists worried about damage to the creek banks and about siltation, which can smother salmon eggs and other stream life.

On Wednesday, refuge officials met with Marathon managers.

''Their measures hadn't been up to the standards of the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, the (Army) Corps of Engineers and the (Alaska) Department of Environmental Conservation. That was the purpose of the Wednesday meeting, to say, 'If you don't comply with the restrictions in the permit, we're going to shut the project down,'' Hall said. ''Our No. 1 concern was to bring Marathon into compliance, and they were more than willing to come into compliance.''

Production Manager John Barnes said Marathon has worked closely with the refuge to minimize environmental impacts.

''The key aspect of minimizing the impacts is to get in, get the job done right and get out,'' he said.

Marathon's right-of-way permit allows the company to clear a 50-foot right of way.

''They followed the permit, except for not keeping up with silt control,'' said Hall of the refuge. ''If we hadn't had this unusually warm weather, this wouldn't have been a problem. They'd have finished in frozen conditions, and the only disturbance to the soil would have been the six-foot trench for the pipeline.''

But the ground is thawing, he said, and construction crews churned parts of the 50-foot right of way into mud. Marathon installed fabric silt fences to filter the runoff, but the ice melted from under them and some fences blew down.

Marathon has now hired a landscaping firm to adjust the silt fences and restore creek crossings and erodible slopes, Hall said. The creek banks will be restored with bio-logs and willows. On disturbed hillsides, burlap matting and bundles of willows will be used to block erosion.

Marathon put an environmental compliance officer on the project Thursday, he said. On Friday, Hall inspected the site.

''Everything is good. They have all the silt fence we were concerned about in place. There is no silt going into Beaver Creek, because it's still frozen,'' he said. ''They said they'd have silt fence in place by Monday to prevent sediment from going into Beaver Creek.''

Pipeline construction should be done by Monday, he said.

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