Rusting fuel tank fails, spilling more than 84,000 gallons

Posted: Wednesday, March 29, 2000

UNALAKLEET (AP) -- More than 84,000 gallons of aviation fuel spilled when an old, rusting fuel tank failed last week at a Unalakleet tank farm, state environmental officials said Tuesday.

The spill occurred Friday at West Coast Aviation Tank Farm when the bottom of an 85,000 gallon tank failed, said Tom DeRuyter, an environmental specialist for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation in Fairbanks.

The fuel in the tank was lost in about a half-hour. About 18 inches of fuel collected in a 3,000-square-foot containment area, he said.

DeRuyter said the exact cause of the leak won't be known until investigators can get to the underside of the tank, but it is likely that a welded seam failed.

The tank, which West Coast Aviation had used for about two years, originally came from a decommissioned military station in Unalakleet.

The containment area consists of a plastic liner topped with gravel and surrounded by an earthen berm. The gravel is graded so spilled fuel accumulates in the center, where there is a pump.

Numerous test holes dug outside the containment area show no signs of contamination, DeRuyter said.

By noon Monday, more than 67,000 gallons of fuel had been sucked up from the containment area. DeRuyter said the fuel was easily recoverable, though puddles remained and the bottoms of 8-foot snow drifts were saturated.

Cleanup will continue for up to two weeks, he said.

Ed Meggert, DEC's on-scene coordinator, said the tank dates back to the 1940s or 1950s, and was one of thousands of old tanks still in use in many Native villages.

Because it contained less than 420,000 gallons, the tank was not regulated by the state, but Meggert said DEC will not allow it to be put back into service.

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