Alyeska stops leak from bullet hole, continues cleanup

Posted: Sunday, October 07, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- With a temporary repair in place on the trans-Alaska pipeline Saturday and work on a permanent fix under way, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. made plans to refill the pipeline Sunday and continue the massive job of cleaning up 285,600 gallons of crude oil spilled onto the Alaska wilderness.

''Our plan is to remove gross contamination before freeze-up and we anticipate it will take literally years to get the area free of contamination,'' said Bill Howitt, an Alyeska vice president based in Fairbanks.

Crews used a hydraulic clamp to cover a bullet hole that allowed oil to spew into the tundra since Thursday. The temporary fix stopped the flow of oil and workers were taking steps toward completing permanent repairs late Saturday night.

''The repair itself is a clamp as well,'' said Alyeska spokeswoman Sandy McClintock.

The permanent clamp was to be welded in place, but before that happened, Alyeska moved in foam retardant, water and response personnel to the site, 75 miles north of Fairbanks.

''The safety of the site is critical,'' McClintock said.

The company expected to have welding completed by 2 a.m. Sunday and was aiming for pipeline startup at 8 a.m.

As of 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Alyeska reported collecting nearly 80,000 gallons of crude oil from the spill site.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Michelle Brown was among the state officials touring the spill Saturday.

Brown watched as workers wearing breathing apparatus and protective clothing prepared to remove the large, yellow temporary clamp.

The normally lonely stretch of pipeline was teeming with about 200 cleanup workers, engineers, welders, safety specialists, and environmental regulators. A steady rain fell and an overwhelming stench of petroleum hung in the air.

Hoses snaked along the muddy pipeline access road carrying spilled fuel from containment ponds to vacuum trucks. Plastic bags filled with oily debris were piled beneath the pipeline and dozens of pickup trucks maneuvered past tractor trailers loaded with pumps, containment boom and other spill response equipment.

''What this shows to me is the importance of stockpiling equipment and all the emergency response drills, Brown said.

Response officials said about 2-3 acres were contaminated by the spill. Brown said it could have been worse.

''It's actually a pretty small containment area for such a large amount of oil spilled,'' Brown said.

Daniel Carson Lewis, 37, is charged with felony assault, weapons misconduct, criminal mischief and driving while intoxicated in connection with the shooting. He is being held in Fairbanks on $1.5 million bail.

Lewis, who has a history of minor criminal convictions, is charged with firing at the pipeline multiple times with a .338-caliber rifle sometime between 2:45 and 3 p.m. Thursday. Troopers found four bullet strikes in the pipeline near the puncture.

According to charging documents, when a bullet penetrated the pipe, Lewis fled on an all-terrain vehicle. His brother, Randolph Lewis, remained at the scene and explained to pipeline security officers what had happened.

Daniel Lewis was apprehended at about 6 p.m. Thursday. At about 10 p.m, while in Alaska State Troopers custody in Fairbanks, Lewis registered a breath alcohol content of .148, almost double the legal limit for driving a motor vehicle.

The leak was near a valve at the foot of a long, uphill climb for the pipeline. When workers discovered the leak and shut down the pipeline, about 840,000 gallons of oil on the hill flowed backward to rest on a valve near the bullet hole. The weight of the oil put intense pressure on the leak, an estimated 525 pound per square inch, and oil sprayed out 75 feet.

Repair efforts Saturday were aided by actions away from the leak. Workers used ''pump-around'' procedures to reduce pressure inside the pipeline to 50 pounds per square inch by midmorning Saturday. Alyeska spokesman Tim Woolston said the workers used a small hose to channel oil around the closed valve and into a section of undamaged pipe on the other side.

''It's out of harm's way there,'' Woolston said.

Dikes channeled oil into four containment ponds and workers used vacuum trucks to suck it up. One of the main concerns was keeping oil from the Tolovana River about one mile away.

Weather conditions called for rain all day Saturday with temperatures ranging from 35-40 degrees and possible snowfall by night.

Though the pipeline was shut down, tanker loading at the Valdez Marine Terminal continued using oil from storage tanks. Alyeska spokesman Tim Woolston said there is enough oil in Valdez to keep loading tankers until Sunday.

The pipeline carries about 1 million barrels of oil a day, or 17 percent of domestic oil production. Oil companies on the North Slope were asked to reduce their production by 95 percent during the shutdown.

Indentations from bullets have been found in the line over the years. Pipeline officials said people have shot at the pipeline more than 50 times but never caused enough damage to produce a spill.

Woolston said pipeline security increased after the East Coast terrorism attacks Sept. 11 but he had no comment regarding security changes since the shooting Thursday.

''We don't talk about security,'' Woolston said.

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