EPA opens criminal probe of Nikiski oil leak

Posted: Friday, July 06, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a criminal investigation into an oil leak that soiled a Nikiski beach in May and has been linked to oil sheens in Cook Inlet, according to state and federal environmental agencies.

The EPA received help from the FBI to seize documents from Cross Timbers Operating, which runs a facility that separates inlet crude oil from sea water.

''I don't think it's a secret that criminal investigators have been there. They collected records,'' said Cindi Godsey, an EPA permit writer in Anchorage.

The agency is not saying much more than that and will not until it has decided whether the probe will lead to charges, she said.

Cross Timbers produces Cook Inlet crude, which comes out of the ground mixed with water and contaminates and must be processed.

A federal permit allows the company to pump treated waste water from that process back into the inlet through an eight-inch pipeline. The line runs down a ravine before dropping below the sandy beach and running to an outfall in Cook Inlet.

In May, crews trying to find the cause of two plumes of oil bubbling to the inlet's surface stumbled onto oil in the ravine near a hole in the Cross Timbers pipe.

Oil samples from the beach matched samples skimmed from the inlet, according to chemical analysis done by the Coast Guard.

Cross Timbers officials say the test results are not conclusive. All the inlet oil would show similar characteristics, said Doug Marshall, the company's production superintendent.

Marshall described the criminal investigation as a surprise.

''We couldn't think of any basis for an investigation because we think we complied with all applicable regulations, and we will continue to do so,'' he said.

''We did have that small hole in our outfall line, but that hole is not what caused the sheens in Cook Inlet.''

Cross Timbers did a quick initial cleanup when the hole was found, but the state Department of Environmental Conservation wants the company to dig up soil where the pipe goes underground for additional testing this summer.

Regulators want to know whether there are more holes in the pipe, said state spill coordinator Leslie Pearson.

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