News: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, October 4, 2002, p.
Pipeline shooting: One year later
By DIANA CAMPBELL
Alyeska Pipeline Service Company hasn't moved fast enough in correcting problems brought to light by last year's crude spill of 286,000 gallons--caused by a single bullet hole in the trans-Alaska oil pipeline--say state officials.
Alyeska officials maintain the company has made good progress that the state hasn't recognized. Still, as of today's first anniversary of the shooting, Alyeska's work hasn't gone far enough, Department of Environmental Conservation officials countered.
"They really didn't get to the heart of the matter," said Ed Meggert, head of the DEC's northern spill response office.
Alyeska officials attributed Meggert's concerns to miscommunication. The company has been steadily working on the problem since the shooting, they say. Meggert just wasn't aware of the progress.
"We are above and beyond compliance," said Greg Jones, senior vice president of operations and maintenance.
Officials from the Joint Pipeline Office, a group of state and federal agencies that oversee Alyeska's compliance, agreed Alyeska has made progress but wouldn't characterize it as good or bad.
"You always want more and you want it sooner," said Mike Wrabetz, a Bureau of Land Management staff member who works in the pipeline office. "They're headed in the right direction."
Not quite enough, said Meggert and Bonnie Friedman, DEC's pipeline oil-spill plan reviewer. Earlier this year Alyeska, DEC, BLM, EPA and the Department of Natural Resources signed a report calling for solutions to problems that surfaced with the pipeline shooting. It took responders 36 hours to plug the bullet hole and stop the leak, and Alyeska and the agencies agreed that in order to shorten leak times in the future, Alyeska needed better clamps, leak detection methods and fire protection response, among other things.
Meggert and Friedman want Alyeska to sign an agreement that outlines a work schedule.
"I'm unhappy that it's not completed yet," Friedman said. A meeting between DEC and Alyeska officials is scheduled for next Monday to discuss the agreement.
One notable Alyeska accomplishment is a collection device that can be used to collect 99 percent of any crude spill from the pipeline, Jones said.
"If we can get to an incident early, we have that much less work to do in respect to cleanup," he said.
It cost Alyeska $20 million to repair the pipeline and clean up crude-covered trees, soil and snow in a quarter-mile radius. The company recovered most of the 286,000 gallons spilled, with 176,000 gallons re-injected back into the pipeline. Alyeska is watching the site with monitor wells.
Last Oct. 4, Daniel Lewis allegedly shot the pipeline with a .338-caliber rifle, causing a puncture in a section of pipe near Livengood, about 85 miles north of Fairbanks. He is now awaiting trial Nov. 12 on state charges of first-degree criminal mischief, third-degree assault, and felony drunken driving. He will be sentenced on Nov. 4 on a federal conviction for felony possession of a firearm related to the incident.
Alyeska responders were unhappy with the hydraulic clamp used in last year's incident because it was too heavy and cumbersome, Jones said. The company has new, modified clamps but plans to have some designed and built in the future.
Meggert said he didn't see any concrete evidence Alyeska was working on previously agreed upon duties until Thursday, when progress reports started appearing on his desk. Until that point, he was ready to tell Alyeska to sign the agreement or face a compliance order.
Trying to fit a clamp by hand in a extremely volatile situation may be too dangerous, he said.
Others, who have long questioned Alyeska's ability to protect life and the environment along the 800-mile pipeline, side with Meggert.
"It's year 25 of the pipeline," said Richard Fineberg, who authored a recent status report on the trans-Alyeska pipeline for the Alaska Forum on Environmental Responsibility. Alyeska should not have taken 36 hours to stop the crude flow, he said.
Residents of pipeline corridor communities have expressed concern over crude spills that could ruin rivers, creeks and land used for hunting and fishing.
"Our concern is, 'What happens if there is a puncture in the pipeline over the Yukon River?'" said Dewey Schwalenberg, the natural resource director for Stevens Village IRHA Council.
"There is no way a major oil spill in that river could be contained," he said.