Problems sideline tanker berths at Valdez terminal

Posted: Tuesday, October 24, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Mechanical problems and a small oil spill have slowed loading at the Alyeska Marine Terminal at Valdez.

Only two of the port's four berths are available. One has no equipment to capture toxic fumes and can load only small tankers.

Loading at the other was temporarily stopped. That came after divers found a nine-inch, hairline crack in the bottom of the SeaRiver North Slope while it was loading.

The tanker became suspect after a sheen was noticed on the water at the terminal early Monday, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said.

The vessel was boomed off and any observable oil was collected using a skimmer and sorbent sweep, the DEC said. Less than a gallon was believed spilled, the agency said.

Crews were moving oil from the tanker's leaking compartment by Monday afternoon, said Greg Jones, head of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.'s Valdez business unit.

Valdez's two other tanker berths are down for repair.

With no berths available, Alyeska kept an incoming tanker out in Prince William Sound on Monday.

Most of the 1 million barrels a day of North Slope crude production flows from Alaska via the Valdez port, but production has not been slowed, officials said.

One berth is closed because pipes that carry ballast water off tankers are corroded. Jones said he expects the pipes will be relined and the berth will be back online in about four weeks.

The second berth is undergoing some major repairs. New valves installed recently shudder and vibrate when handling large amounts of oil, Jones said.

Attempts to strengthen the valves failed last week. During a loading test Thursday, an electrical spark flashed off equipment moving toward a tanker to recover oil vapors.

Workers immediately halted loading, he said.

''Any risk of fire is obviously very serious to us,'' said Stan Jones, spokesman for a citizens' group that monitors tanker traffic in the Sound.

Alyeska's Greg Jones said he expects repairs at this berth will take eight weeks but the berth may see limited use until then.

Since this berth went off line in August, Alyeska has loaded more than 90 percent of the oil at the dock where the SeaRiver North Slope loaded Monday. That berth can handle large ships and has equipment to capture toxic vapors.

With that berth temporarily closed, the only remaining dock is ''Berth 1,'' which has no vapor control and can load only smaller tankers.

''Working with two berths has been status quo for some time. With today's leak we are out of leeway,'' Alyeska spokesman Tim Woolston told the Anchorage Daily News.

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