A corroded outfall pipe is being blamed for the release of thousands of gallons of produced water mixed with an unknown amount of crude oil from the Cross Timbers Oil Company's on-shore facility in Nikiski on Wednesday afternoon.
Workers cleaning up the Unocal Dillon Platform oil spill at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday happened across another oil sheen on the beach, which appeared to be coming from a spring near the outfall line. Cook Inlet Spill Prevention and Response personnel used oil-absorbing pompoms to contain and recover the oil that appeared to be mixed with the produced water, which is a byproduct of drilling.
At 5 p.m. the Alaska Depart-ment of Environmental Conserva-tion was notified, and at 6 p.m. representatives from that agency and the U.S. Coast Guard followed the spill up the bluff and found it was coming from a broken produced water outfall pipe owned by Cross Timbers.
Cross Timbers has a permit to discharge treated produced water into Cook Inlet through the outfall pipe, but it is supposed to do so well into the inlet, not at the shore. According to a DEC report, 1,200 barrels, or 50,400 gallons of produced water were pumped into the pipe in the 24 hours before the line was shut down at 6:36 p.m. Wednesday.
There is no estimate how long the outfall pipe had been broken, or how much fluid had spilled. The DEC report Thursday morning indicated the soil surrounding the broken pipe was stained black, and brown oil could be seen along with a rainbow sheen on the fluid inside.
The report said the outfall pipe was "broken wide open," apparently due to corrosion and structural instability.
"From my best professional judgment, it appears to be external corrosion," said Mike Munger, a program coordinator with Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Committee. "But without a metallurgical inspection, we can't be positive."
Munger, a former environmental specialist with DEC, said the outfall line is comprised of pipe of varying ages.
Bruce Possey of the Anchorage public relations firm that bears his name represents Cross Timbers. He said the spill had nothing to do with the Unocal Dillon spill.
"Two hydrogeologists from Anchorage are down there trying to determine where the oil is coming from," Possey said.
He did not know if there was a problem in the separation facility, but said the operation was tested in April and was operating within the bounds of its permit.
Munger said how the crude oil made it into the produced water is the big question of the day.
"Under their permit's conditions, there should be no crude oil associated with the produced water whatsoever," he said.
Munger said it was his understanding that the shutdown of the approximately 8-inch outfall line has not disrupted operations on Cross Timbers' two oil production platforms.
An emergency containment plan is being formulated by DEC, the Coast Guard and Cross Timbers, and will most likely be in the form of an interception trench filled with absorbent material to cut off flow of more crude oil into the inlet.
"Then the remediation phase will begin to delineate the extent of the contamination and set up long-term filtration at the base of the bluff," Munger said.
In the meantime, DEC officials have taken soil and oil samples to help determine the origin of the crude oil component of the spill.
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