Cleanup work continues at spill site

Posted: Tuesday, October 09, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- About a hundred workers were cleaning up Monday at the site where a bullet pierced the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, causing a leak that spewed nearly 300,000 gallons of crude.

Gov. Tony Knowles and other state officials toured the area Monday afternoon as oil collections dropped. Knowles praised the effort by Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. crews and contractors to patch the line and retrieve the oil that spewed across two or three acres of spruce and birch forest near Livengood.

''When people look back and piece this together, they're going to use this as an example of how this should be done,'' Knowles told workers at the site.

Crews have already pumped 108,402 gallons out of containment pits and reinjected that crude into the pipeline, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. That's more than a third of the 285,600 gallons that gushed out of the bullet hole, according to company estimates.

But the flow of oil into the pits had slowed dramatically by late Monday, to less than 90 gallons an hour, said Brad Hahn of the DEC.

Besides the oil already reinjected, nearly 10,000 gallons had been gathered for processing through a filtration system to remove soil and other contaminants. That system began operating Monday, according to Mike Heatwole of Alyeska Pipeline.

A lot of work remains to be done, said Hahn of the DEC, with surveys and assessment of the site already under way.

The oiled area is a mixture of spruce and birch, with permafrost underlying the spruce, said Hahn.

''Walking the site the other day, I saw quite a bit of variation in the terrain,'' he said. Where it's really soft, we'll have to wait until the ground freezes up.''

Then, he said, workers will start removing the heavy vegetation and excavating soil.

''My guess is, we'll be backfilling some of it, planting vegetation so it can be recovered back to the natural vegetation,'' he said. Soil that is excavated will probably be taken to an incinerator and burned.

Much of the area is only lightly sprayed and won't need to be disturbed, he said, as officials look at the best methods to return the site to normal.

Permanent repairs of the leak 75 miles north of Fairbanks were completed late Saturday night. North Slope oil began flowing again early Sunday. The pipeline was back to normal capacity a few hours later.

The man accused of firing the bullet that pierced the line, Daniel Lewis, 37, is being held on charges that include assault, weapons misconduct, and criminal mischief. His bond is $1.5 million.

Alaska State Troopers say Lewis fired at the pipeline several times with a .338-caliber rifle Thursday afternoon. Troopers found four bullet strikes in the line near the puncture itself.

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