Bullet Holes Spill Alaskan Oil

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, October 8, 2001 (ENS) - A drunken man shot a hole in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline last Thursday, causing one of the worst oil spills in the pipeline's history. Although the hole has now been patched, and oil once again flows through Alaska's primary oil artery, workers are still laboring to clean up an estimated 6,800 barrels of crude oil from the Arctic landscape.


Oil spews under high pressure from bullet holes in the Trans-Alaska pipeline last week (Photos courtesy Alyeska Pipeline Service Company)
The trans-Alaska pipeline was shut down at about 2:30 pm October 4 after a surveillance helicopter flown by the pipeline's operators, the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, detected oil on the ground.

The spill was at the bottom of a long low hill, with gravity creating pressure inside the pipeline of about 525 pounds per square inch at the time of the shooting. When workers arrived, oil was spraying out about 75 feet from the pipeline, at a rate of about 120 gallons per minute.

Alyeska's Operations Control Center immediately began shutting down the north end of the line, above the site of the spill. Oil continued to flow below the spill site to relieve pressure on the pipe.

Daniel Carson Lewis, a 37 year old man from a town near the pipeline, was arrested for shooting the pipeline with a .338 caliber rifle. He has been charged with felony assault, criminal mischief, weapons misconduct, and driving while intoxicated, and is being held on $1.5 million bail.


Oil flowed into the woods around the punctured pipeline
There have been several past incidents where people have shot at the pipeline, but none have ever caused a spill of this magnitude, Alyeska officials said. State hunting regulations prohibit the use of firearms within five miles of the pipeline.

Control, containment, and clean up efforts continued today at Milepost 400 of the trans-Alaska pipeline. By Friday, cleanup crews were "recovering oil at a rate equal to, or greater than the leak rate," said Bill Howitt, unified commander of the Alyeska cleanup team.

The Trans-Alaska pipeline was restarted at early Sunday morning following permanent repair of the puncture holes. A hydraulic clamp was initially placed on the rupture to stop the spill of oil, and then a plug was welded onto the pipeline to permanently repair the damage.

An estimated total of 6,800 barrels or 285,600 gallons were spilled. About 2,108 barrels or 88,541 gallons were recovered as of early Sunday morning.


One of the containment pits built to hold the spilled oil
More than 100 Alyeska and contract responders, working 12 hour shifts, helped to contain and recover the spilled oil. Four containment pits have been set up for collection of the oil.

Alyeska officials said it will take weeks to pump oil from the pits. Mopping up the oil from the ground and vegetation will take months, and cleanup could last through next summer.

Although it is too early to assess the environmental impact, no injuries to wildlife have been reported. The pipeline unified command is now formulating plans for long term environmental cleanup, restoration and monitoring, with the help of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.