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Oil flowing again after repairs made to trans-Alaska pipeline

Posted: Monday, October 08, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Crude oil resumed flowing through the trans-Alaska pipeline Sunday after workers welded over a bullet hole in the line that caused 285,600 gallons of oil to spew onto the Alaska wilderness.

Permanent repairs on the line 75 miles north of Fairbanks were completed late Saturday night and North Slope oil began flowing at 3:24 a.m. Sunday. The pipeline was up to full capacity about four hours later, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. spokesman Mike Heatwole said Sunday.

The pipeline, which carries about 17 percent of the nation's oil production or about 1 million barrels a day, had to be shut down after the line was shot Thursday. The line was repaired by welding a plug in place.

Crews now are focusing on the massive cleanup.

''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.

By Sunday morning, Alyeska had collected 88,541 gallons of spilled crude.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Michelle Brown toured the spill site Saturday. She watched as workers wearing breathing apparatus and protective clothing prepared to remove a 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.

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.

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.

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

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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