Three spills spoil Alyeska pipeline restart

Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- As much as 1,200 gallons of oil may have spilled during a routine restart of the trans-Alaska pipeline, according to regulators who oversee the pipeline.

The spills stem from problems in how workers executed work and do not appear to be due to equipment failures, said Jerry Brossia, with the joint state-federal Joint Pipeline Office.

''This is the biggest procedural bust at Alyeska in a long time,'' he said. ''They just got sloppy.''

The 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez carries about 1 million barrels of oil a day. After a 21-hour shutdown, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. reopened the pipeline at 4 a.m. Sunday.

Oil spilled at Pump Station 3, Pump Station 4 and Pump Station 5 on the northern fringe of Alaska in the Brooks Range.

The spill happened after a routine maintenance shutdown, said Bill Howitt, an Alyeska senior vice president in Fairbanks.

The oil didn't reach land near the pipeline, but regulators say the missteps that led to the spills are among the most serious problems along the pipeline in recent years.

One pipeline observer said the spills are another of a series of problems that have plagued Alyeska in restarting the pipeline after temporary shutdowns.

Alyeska does 12-hour maintenance shutdowns every September to replace valves or do other maintenance that can only happen when oil flow is shut off.

Richard Fineberg, a Fairbanks economic and environmental consultant, said that the spills are another in a series of problems during pipeline restarts.

''Three different problems at three different pump stations at once is mind-boggling,'' Fineberg said. ''It demonstrates a clear lack of preparation.''

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