Oil spill dominating topic at pipeline hearing

Posted: Thursday, October 11, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A citizen's watchdog group should be set up to oversee the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, several speakers said during a hearing on the pipeline's lease renewal.

Environmental activists and other critics pointed to last week's shooting of the pipeline as an example of the need for better monitoring.

About a dozen people, many of them representing organizations, testified Wednesday at the two-hour public hearing in Fairbanks.

The operation of the pipeline was praised by a few business leaders. But most of the speakers urged greater pipeline oversight.

The state and federal governments are currently considering renewal of the 30-year leases for the land that the pipeline crosses. The leases expire in 2004, and the Argonne National Laboratory is drafting an environmental impact statement on the proposed renewal.

The Fairbanks hearing was the fourth held throughout the state to solicit comment on what issues should be addressed in that document. The final one is scheduled for Friday in Barrow.

The process also will include a study of the environmental, economic and social impacts of the oil pipeline as well as its physical condition and whether Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. has complied with regulations in operating the line.

Deb Moore of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center said her organization understands the importance of the pipeline and expects the leases to be renewed. However, she said, the renewal process is a good time to make needed improvements, such as the creation of a citizen's oversight group.

Another speaker was Ross Coen, executive director of the Alaska Forum For Environmental Responsibility. He noted it took 36 hours to plug the bullet hole that caused the 285,000-gallon spill near Livengood, 75 miles north of Fairbanks.

Both Coen and Richard Fineberg, a pipeline critic who served as an oil policy adviser under former Gov. Steve Cowper, said there are serious questions about whether Alyeska took longer than needed to repair the bullet hole.

The pair questioned the testing of the clamp that was used and whether a wrong-sized crane caused a delay, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

''Alyeska claims a successful response; even the governor of Alaska claims a succesful response,'' Coen said. ''But serious questions remain about the spill and Alyeska's response.''

State enviromental regulators said the repairs were slowed by the intense pressure of the oil and and safety issues such as as toxic and flammable fumes.

Michelle Brown, the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said that DEC would review the matter.

Public comments will be accepted until Oct. 19. The draft Environmental Impact Statement for the lease renewals will be published next July, followed by more public comment.

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