Vandals fire more bullets at pipeline

Posted: Friday, October 04, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A year after a bullet pierced the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, spewing 286,000 gallons of crude oil, three more bullet impacts have been found along the line north of the Yukon River.

Only one bullet made it through the line's insulation wrapper, and it only scuffed the 48-inch-diameter pipe, according to regulators and the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which operates the line for six owner oil companies.

The bullet impacts were found after Alyeska security guards noticed a shot-up sign Tuesday nearly 11 miles north of the Yukon River. The sign marks the location of a valve that can shut off the flow of oil.

The bullets caused no oil to spill and didn't hurt the integrity of the pipeline, said Curtis Thomas, an Alyeska spokesman in Fairbanks. The apparently small-caliber bullets couldn't penetrate the half-inch-thick steel pipe.

Alyeska reported the shooting to authorities, including Alaska State Troopers and the FBI. Thomas said he had not heard of any suspects in the case.

The pipeline has been shot dozens of times in its 25 years of operation. The fresh shots are disturbing in light of the incident one year ago, when a man blasted a hole in the pipe with a .338-caliber rifle, the only time the pipe has been pierced.

Daniel Carson Lewis faces state felony and misdemeanor charges in connection with the shooting. He was convicted of a federal firearms violation.

Though small, the bullet hole in the line near Livengood about 75 miles north of Fairbanks required a large-scale and expensive control and cleanup effort. Oil spurted for 36 hours before Alyeska could maneuver in a crane and snap a hydraulic clamp over the hole.

The cleanup is complete now, with Alyeska reporting that it recovered more than 178,000 gallons of the spilled oil. Total cost of pipeline repairs and cleanup was about $20 million.

Since that incident, Alyeska has taken steps to improve its response should another bullet pierce the pipe.

Thomas said the latest shots could have come from a hunter or somebody firing just for kicks. Regardless, it's troublesome, he said.

''It's always unnerving when you think of somebody taking time out of their day to take a shot at the pipeline,'' he said. ''We'd like people to think of that pipeline as their own. It's a vital vein for this state's economy.''

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