Murkowski wants experts in Alaska considered for next spill

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski said it may be time to have experts trained in Alaska to respond more quickly to oil spills such as the one caused by a bullet through the trans-Alaska pipeline 10 days ago.

''The questions obviously are, if we have an exposure like that, how could we take action perhaps in a more prompt time frame,'' Murkowski said.

A bullet punctured the pipeline about 2:45 p.m. on Oct. 4. After authorities hunted down and captured the suspected gunman, spill responders entered the area in the early evening.

Workers plugged the leak with a clamp Oct. 6 after approximately 286,000 gallons of North Slope crude spilled.

Murkowski, R-Alaska, is the ranking minority member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Alyeska officials briefed Murkowski on the spill and on Friday he said he was concerned with the time it took to transport expert firefighters from Texas to the spill site 80 miles north of Fairbanks.

Given the extreme fire danger at the site of the breach, Alyeska wanted to have experts on the scene who had fought fires under similar conditions.

''I suggested that perhaps they might provide fire crews in Valdez with that training so they could in fact be called in if such a situation should re-occur,'' Murkowski said.

Alyeska spokesman Curtis Thomas described the team from Texas as the ''brain surgeons'' of the firefighting world -- skilled specialists with real-world experience in the situation Alyeska faced.

''That was one of the reasons that we hesitated, because we wanted experts on site,'' Thomas said. ''But even if they had been on site at the time of the shooting we would not have moved any quicker ... the pressure was too great.''

Pressure had to be brought down to safely install a clamp, Thomas said.

The team was under contract to Alyeska and provided advice before its arrival at the site about 2:45 p.m. Oct. 5.

''Safety was the first concern, and then the success of the operation,'' Thomas said.

Thomas said Alyeska officials are considering Murkowski's suggestion that Alaska firefighters undergo additional training.

''But for now we will rely on the experts and our ability to access them quickly,'' he said.

Round-the-clock cleanup work continues at the site near Livengood. Almost 150,000 gallons of the spilled oil has been collected.

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