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Earthquake damage holds Alaska oil flow

Posted: Tuesday, November 05, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The last oil stored at the trans-Alaska oil pipeline terminus in Valdez has been loaded and no more crude will be shipped south until the pipeline is repaired and restarted.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. spokesman Mike Heatwole said a prediction for restarting the pipeline could come Tuesday after the company completes reviewing 160 key components of 211 miles of pipeline closest to a major earthquake that hit Interior Alaska on Sunday.

''We want to get operational as soon as we can but with a solid eye on the integrity of the system and the safety of the system and our personnel,'' Heatwole said. ''We don't want to rush it.''

Crude oil inventories in Valdez already were low when the earthquake hit. Since the quake, one tanker was loaded and the inventory at Valdez was depleted.

 

Department of Transportation workers look over the damage at mile 75-82 of the Tok Cutoff Highway, near Mentasta, Alaska, caused by an earthquake on Sunday that rocked a sparsely populated area of interior Alaska cracking highways and roads, Monday, Nov. 4, 2002. The magnitude 7.9 quake was centered in a sparsely populated area 90 miles south of Fairbanks and was felt throughout much of the state.

AP Photo/Alaska Department of Transportation, Ho

The magnitude 7.9 quake hit at 1:13 p.m. Alaska Time (5:13 p.m. EST) Sunday. It was centered in a sparsely populated area 90 miles south of Fairbanks and 45 miles east of Denali National Park.

The pipeline remained idle Monday as more 100 workers scrambled to shore up damaged supports or looked for further damage.

Alyeska moved equipment into place Sunday night and crews spent Monday building wooden cribs to alleviate stress on the pipe where supports were damaged.

About half of the 800-mile, 48-inch diameter line is above ground, supported by H-shape vertical support members. Connecting the pipe and the vertical support members are ''shoes'' that shift when the pipe contracts, expands or moves from an earthquake.

At eight locations, Alyeska found shoes broken off and on the ground. At five locations, Alyeska found crossbeams on the ground, leaving the pipe suspended.

The survey work included inspection of three bridges, excavation and evaluation of a remote valve and pressure testing of pipe sections.

Heatwole said tanker loading could resume about 24 hours after restarting the pipeline.

BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell said the company had a tanker in port in Valdez.

''It will be standing by until Alyeska is ready to begin loading crude again,'' Chappell said. Two more tankers were on their way north. Chappell said BP planned to order them to slow down to avoid crowding the port.

Based on what was known Monday morning, oil analysts had little concern that the pipeline shutdown would dramatically effect supplies or prices.

''As far as affecting the world's oil markets, it would probably have to be knocked out a month or more,'' said Ed Silliere, vice president of risk management at Energy Merchant LLC in New York.

Silliere said damage to a pumping station would be of much greater concern than a rupture in the pipeline, which could more easily be fixed.

The quake cracked highways and roads, triggered rock slides, shook houses and knocked over private fuel tanks. State teams organized by the Division of Emergency Services were scheduled to leave Wednesday to assess damage in rural areas.

School officials at Mentasta Lake 38 miles southwest of Tok were not waiting for a disaster declaration. School officials moved 40 students and three teachers to the village senior center for classes after spotting cracked beams in the library, buckled floors and damage to the front entryway.

''Everything fell off the shelves in the library,'' said Carol Doyle, superintendent of Alaska Gateway Schools. The district's maintenance supervisor visited Monday to inspect damage, Doyle said.

The school was the community's polling place. Tom Godkin, acting election supervisor in Fairbanks, said voters also would move next door for the election Tuesday.

Anita Adams, tribal operations specialist for the Mentasta Traditional Council, said a 14-family apartment complex was evacuated after water lines broke and people smelled propane. The earthquake also damaged foundations of several single-family homes and the Mentasta Christian Center.

''It looks like there's a lot of structural damage,'' she said.

The other problem remaining is diesel oil leaked from storage tanks turned over by the earthquake, Adams said.

The earthquake rattled the Ground-based Midcourse Defense construction project at Fort Greely, but officials report no damage there.

Lt. Col. Jay Smith, chief of staff of the GMD Site Activation Command, said reports reaching him in Anchorage were that the project weathered the shake up.

''Our folks are doing a double-check,'' Smith said. ''Initial indications are we did well.''

Smith said he felt the earthquake and hoped it was centered far away from the construction project even though beams, the foundations and the connections are built to withstand such an event.

Had there been missiles on site, as expected by late 2004, workers would be checking missile welds and rivets and looking for fuel leaks.

''If there were missiles in place, we'd do a thorough checkout,'' Smith said.

Road crews continued repairs and reported the Richardson, Alaska and Parks highways were open, as well as the Tok Cutoff connecting the Alaska Highway at Tok to the Richardson Highway at Gakona.

The earthquake was the second major episode on the Denali Fault in Interior Alaska in the last two weeks. A magnitude 6.7 earthquake centered about 30 miles southeast of Denali National Park hit at 3:27 a.m. Oct. 23.

University of Alaska Fairbanks seismologist Natasha Ratchkovski said the earlier earthquake had an aftershock zone, an area where smaller quakes continue to relieve stress, of 25-30 miles. The quake Sunday had an aftershock zone of more than 125 miles and they overlapped by 6-12 miles. A magnitude 4.0 quake struck between the two epicenters Sunday morning and could be considered an aftershock from the first quake or a foreshock of the larger quake, Ratchkovski said.

Aftershocks continued to rattle Alaska Monday and officials with the Alaska Earthquake Information Center in Fairbanks said residents could expect to feel aftershocks for the next several days before the magnitude decreases substantially. The largest aftershock measured 5.1 and there were four measuring 4.5 to 4.7. All of the aftershocks were centered in roughly the same area of Interior Alaska.

The Alaska quake caused ocean-like waves in the 55-mile long Lake Chelan in north-central Washington.

Corwyn and Cindy Fischer of Cashmere were standing on a dock about halfway up Lake Chelan, waiting for the Lady Express ferry to pick them up, when the rough waves came.

''This strange thing happened where the water started rushing up onto the beach about 10 to 12 feet,'' Corwyn Fischer said. ''We all looked at each other like, 'What is going on here?'''

The lake level rose more than two feet on the pilings of the dock at the remote community of Lucerne and then receded, he said.

''It probably did that a good half-dozen times,'' said Fischer, a former pilot for the Lake Chelan Boat Co. ''Standing on the dock, it was kind of like being out on the ocean. It's something I've never seen before on the lake, and I've been on that lake for many, many years.''

Bill Sachse, who was the pilot of the Lady Express on Sunday, said he didn't experience any rough water in the 65-foot boat.

''But all along the shoreline at Lucerne, you could see the results of something that happened there,'' he said. ''It was evident that something big had happened to create that kind of wave action in the lake.''



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