Alaska Workers Recover 56,000 Gallons; Content Likely ‘Mostly Oil’

March 9, 2006

Workers in Alaska have recovered more than 56,000 gallons, or 1,335 barrels, of crude oil and snowmelt after a leak was discovered on a transit line on Prudhoe Bay, officials said.

It’s still not known how much total oil spilled from the 34-inch diameter transit line onto the North Slope’s frozen tundra, but one oil company official said it will likely be largely crude once water is separated out.

“We expect that the majority of the material recovered is going to be oil,” BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. spokesman Daren Beaudo said.

The latest figure of crude oil recovered was provided Monday, and was only based on collection efforts in the first 36 hours after the discovery of the leak early Thursday morning. Officials said about 501 barrels — or more than 21,000 gallons — of crude had been separated from the melted snow.

State and company officials said work calculating a figure of the amount of crude spilled started Monday, but no figures would likely be released until Thursday.

“I can only say we’ve got 1,335 barrels of liquid, and I can’t tell you how is much is oil and water,” said Linda Giguere with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The North Slope’s largest spill in the last 20 years was 38,850 gallons spilled in 1989 at Milne Point, Giguere said.

Workers also on Tuesday temporarily patched a quarter-inch hole in an oil transit line that is believed to be the source of the leak.

It appears internal corrosion is the cause, although an in-depth investigation is underway, Beaudo said.

The damaged line was shut down and depressurized after the spill was first detected last Thursday. Plans for a permanent repair are underway.

Spill responders early Sunday morning located the rupture in the 34-inch pipeline that runs between two so-called gathering centers and ultimately into the Trans-Alaska Pipeline about 7 1/2 miles away.

Gathering centers are facilities where the product pumped out of the ground is separated into oil, gas and water. The pipe that ruptured was carrying oil.

Sixty spill responders are involved in the round-the-clock clean-up effort using heavy oil pumps and vacuum trucks. Beaudo said the team expects to recover at least 90 percent of the spill.

Beaudo said the winter conditions are working in their favor.

“When it interacts with the cold, the material gels up and thickens and it doesn’t move very fast and very far. So we are hopeful there’s enough of a natural barrier that we can get it all up,” he said.

While the weather helps contain the spill, Beaudo said the leak might have been discovered more quickly in the summer.

“Sometimes you can’t see it because, if it’s leaking out the bottom of a pipe, it will create a snow cave and travel underneath the snow. That’s what happened in this case,” he said.

It’s unclear when the rupture occurred and whether it was a long slow leak or one that developed suddenly.

The spill covers almost two acres of tundra about 650 miles north of Anchorage, and has reached the edge of a frozen lake.

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