Oil spill in Alaska closes 800 miles of pipeline

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Trans-Alaska Pipeline System
Image: Ryan McFarland.

800 miles of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System were closed down following a spill of thousands of barrels of crude oil south of Fairbanks, Alaska. A power failure following a routine fire-command system test caused relief valves to open and crude oil overflowed near the Fort Greely pump station 9. The valves opening allowed a pressure release for the system and oil flowed on a pad to a tank that can hold 55,000 barrels (2.3 million gallons). As of Wednesday afternoon, the tank vents were still leaking probably from thermal expansion inside the tank. Another secondary containment area below the tanks capable of holding 104,500 barrels was not yet filled to capacity.

The spill coordinator for the Department of Environmental Conservation, Tom DeRuter, said that the oil spill contamination should be confined to the graveled oil containment liner. "Safety is their No. 1 objective right now. As soon as it is safe to move in, then they'll get the power on and try to empty that tank out. As long as everything is in that liner, it gives us time," DeRuter explained.

Map of Alaska showing both Fairbanks (PS 8) and Prudhoe Bay (PS 1). This oil spill occured at Pump Station 9.
Image: Flominator.

40 people had been evacuated from the Fort Greely site, and the Prudhoe Bay station has been reduced by 84%. "We're going to take as long as we need to make sure the site is safe before we start back up," said Alyeska Pipeline Service Company spokesperson Michele Egan. There is capacity in reserve tanks for 48 hours during this slow down of production.

About 650,000 barrels per day run through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline between Prudhoe Bay to the Port of Valdez oil tankers. The majority of shares in Alyeska are held by BP Exploration, Alaska (BPXA) which is also currently addressing the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP addressed a 267,000 gallon crude oil spill in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in 2006 resulting in a lawsuit against BP Exploration.

Sources

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