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Alaska's North Slope sees its biggest oil spill


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A recent crude oil spill flooded the tundra in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay on the oil-rich North Slope. The 800-mile-long Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) is one of the largest pipeline systems in the world.

 

The source of the oil spill was discovered last Thursday by a BP oil worker: a quarter-inch rupture in the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, apparently caused by corrosion, 650-odd miles north of Anchorage. BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. (BPXA) operates 13 North Slope oil fields, four North Slope pipelines.

 

Based on GPS mapping and surveyor calculations, the Unified Command estimates that between 201,000 to 267,000 gallons of crude oil spilled as a result of the Gathering Center 2 transit line leak at Prudhoe Bay. The actual spill volume will be determined only after cleanup is completed and oil that has been collected is measured. To date, crews have recovered 52,920 gallons based on actual measurements of

recovered fluids.

 

A surveying team worked Monday through Wednesday to gather information. Surveyors probed the spill area to determine the oil thickness and verify the extent of the impacted area. This information, along with topographic mapping data, was inputted into a computer program to develop the volume estimate.

 

Cleanup operations continue around the clock in adverse weather conditions, with temperatures sometimes reaching 50 to 70 degrees below zero with the wind chill. A snow and ice ramp has been built to protect sensitive areas at the lake’s edge.

 

A plan for gross snow and liquid removal and tundra treatment should be completed today. Ultrasonic testing of the damaged area of the pipe was comple ted late Wednesday evening and a 6- foot-long sleeve was bolted into place yesterday. Preparations are being made to weld the sleeve permanently in place today, weather permitting.

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This weekend’s accident is just one in a long history of substantial spills seen on Alaska’s fragile North Slope since development began there. In fact, despite industry hype about the safety of development and new technology, the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and Trans-Alaska Pipeline have caused an average of 504 spills annually on the North Slope since 1996, according to the Alaska’s own Department of Environmental Conservation. Past spills have included a 300,000 crude oil spill from the Trans-Alaska pipeline that was detected as far as 166 miles away; a 110,000 gallon crude oil spill caused by a bulldozer which created a geyser that spewed oil over 20 acres of tundra wetlands; the infamous 285,000 gallons of crude oil that spilled into the boreal forest after a local hunter shot the pipeline with a high powered rifle; and the disastrous 675,000 gallons that were leaked after a saboteur exploded a two inch hole in the pipeline just a few miles north of Fairbanks.

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