Wednesday, March 15, 2006


An editorial in a local Pennsylvania newspaper recently stated, "One argument in behalf of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is that it can be done without damaging the pristine nature of this world-class nature preserve."

"That argument, never really credible, is in serious disrepute today as clean-up crews struggle to contain what, at this point, is the sixth largest oil spill ever on Alaska's North Slope. And it comes as Congress once again struggles over whether to include projected oil revenues from ANWR in the budget authorization bill."

The editorial makes reference to what is now, in fact, known to be the largest oil spill ever on the tundra of Alaska's north slope.

Richard Fineberg, a former state oil analyst makes light of the spill's impact by pointing out something that should be shocking itself, "That area is not pristine. It's industrial."

Isn't that nice?

Defenders of Wildlife said the rupture shows the devastation drilling in wildlife areas can cause. They said the spill illustrates that improved technologies for drilling do nothing to prevent pipeline ruptures down the line.

And, as the Alaska Wildnerness League points out:

Besides the actual damage from the oil itself, additional impacts could occur directly from the clean-up efforts, which require large 18-wheeler trucks to drive over the delicate tundra in order to access the spill site.

The arctic tundra of Alaska is extremely fragile and recent snow cover provides almost no buffer between the tundra and the heavy crude seen pooling to the side of the oil transit line.

The clean-up efforts also pose risks to crew members, who are having to brave temperatures dipping to 20 degrees below zero and deep snow, which is hiding much of the spill.

The caribou crossing oil spill reinforces the fact that oil development is a hazardous undertaking. Accidents like these can never be 100 percent avoided. And with oil companies continually stressing their safety records and technological advances, these spills remind us that no amount of technology so far has made oil drilling a risk-free operation. It is urgent that we do everything possible to develop safer, cleaner alternatives to satisfy our energy needs in this country.

And how is the clean up going, well the ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION - Division of Spill Prevention and Response reports:

Extreme cold weather (wind chill to as much as 63° below zero) has continued to hamper
the cleanup activities over the weekend. At times workers have been limited to a maximum of 25 minutes exposure
to the weather conditions before concern for personal safety has required that they be brought into a warm-up shelter
for an extended period of time. Vacuum recovery of free flowing fluids, oiled snow and non-oiled snow removal
from the spill site, and the continued excavation of contaminated gravel from the caribou crossing continue to be
the highest cleanup priorities of both clean-up shifts. Four ADEC oil spill response staff are on site, monitoring the
cleanup efforts, 24 hours a day and participating in the IMT.
The BPXA Incident Management Team (IMT) at the Prudhoe Bay Operations Center (PBOC) and the Business
Support Team (BST) in Anchorage continue to operate. ADEC has a staff liaison coordinating with the BST in
To date the clean-up efforts have collected a total of: 59,976 gallons (1,428 bbls) of free flowing oil, 57 yards of oil
contaminated gravel, and 1,668 yards of oil contaminated snow as of the 7:00 PM day shift change on March 12,
Over the past few days bobcats and generator systems have broken down, primarily due to the extreme cold weather
conditions. Logistics is bringing in replacements from Fairbanks. All similar local assets are assigned to the
cleanup or have been put into service elsewhere.

This from the NY Times:

Large Oil Spill in Alaska Went Undetected for Days

WASHINGTON, March 14 — The largest oil spill to occur on the tundra of Alaska's North Slope has deposited up to 267,000 gallons of thick crude oil over two acres in the sprawling Prudhoe Bay production facilities, forcing cleanup crews to work in temperatures far below zero to vacuum and dig up the thick mixture of snow and oil.

The spill went undetected for as long as five days before an oilfield worker detected the acrid scent of hydrocarbons while driving through the area on March 2, Maureen Johnson, the senior vice president and manager of the Prudhoe Bay unit for BP, said at a news conference in Anchorage on Tuesday.

At the conference, officials from BP, the company pumping the oil, and from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said they believed that the oil had escaped through a pinprick-size hole in a corroded 34-inch pipe leading to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.

The pressure of the leaking oil, they said, gradually expanded the hole to a quarter- or half-inch wide. Most of the oil seeped beneath the snow without attracting the attention of workers monitoring alarm systems.

The leak occurred in a section of pipe built in the late 1970's, in the earliest days of oil production at Prudhoe Bay. The larger pipeline, which carries North Slope oil across the state, was completed in 1977.

Environmental groups were quick to point out that the spill raises doubts about the continuing reliability and durability of the infrastructure of North Slope production.

The current spill is among the worst in the pipeline's history, and the first of such a magnitude likely to be blamed on the decay of the aging system. In 1989, about 11 million gallons fouled Prince William Sound after the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground. About 700,000 gallons escaped from the pipeline after vandals blew up a section of it in 1978, and about 285,000 gallons spilled in 2001 when a hunter shot the pipeline.

Asked later on Tuesday about how company and state officials arrived at their tentative conclusions about the cause of the spill, Ms. Johnson said investigators had "looked at the leak investigation system, at all the logs and all the charts" that measure oil volume and pressure at different times and in different areas.

At the news conference, Ms. Johnson said that although routine inspections last year indicated increasing corrosion in the pipe, the severity of corrosion found since the leak pointed to a swift and sudden deterioration. "We had no reason to expect" that this pipe, which carried 100,000 barrels of oil to the Alaska pipeline a day, "was going to leak," she said.

Ms. Johnson also said the leak was "smaller than our system would detect," adding that it was "still not acceptable to BP."

The normal fluctuations of oil flow in this particular pipe could have masked warning signals, state environment officials said.

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