Valdez spill response continues as Alyeska investigates cause


Response task forces of fishing vessels and self-propelled skimmers at the Valdez Marine Terminal on Sept. 23. (Photo courtesy Alyeska Pipeline Service Company)

Alyeska Pipeline Service Company is investigating how crude oil ended up in the Port of Valdez after a spill last Thursday. Since cleanup efforts began, Alyeska estimates about 400 gallons of oily water have been recovered.

Alyeska reports the spill happened during yearly testing of the loading arms at the Valdez Marine Terminal — the pipes that deliver crude oil to tankers. During an unplanned pause in testing, oily water flowed back through the system, out of the intake pipe and into the Port of Valdez.

There was containment boom in place at the end of the berth during the testing — that’s standard procedure, according to Kate Dugan, a spokeswoman for Alyeska. However, the intake pipe was located outside of the boom.

Dugan said Alyeska has ruled out a mechanical failure, but it isn’t ready to pinpoint human error during testing as the cause of the spill.

“That’s what the investigation is going to determine,” Dugan said.

Cleanup of the spill is continuing. Dugan said Monday morning overflights of the area confirmed that the only remaining sheen is contained to the vessel decontamination area.

The state has not yet confirmed the total amount of crude oil that ended up in the water. Geoff Merrell at the state Department of Environmental Conservation said the nature of the spill makes it hard to figure out.

“This is not a traditional spill and so oil volume estimating is very difficult and is an inexact thing,” Merrell said.

Merrell said the state is also investigating the root cause of the spill, but it hasn’t come to any conclusions yet because the current focus is on cleanup. Merrell added he’s received no reports of wildlife harmed by the spill.

Donna Schantz, executive director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, said her group is generally happy with Alyeska’s response to the incident.

But Schantz added the amount of work it’s taking to recover from a relatively small spill should be a wake-up call.

“We’re fortunate that it wasn’t a larger amount spilled, fortunate that the weather cooperated… But I think it really makes people realize the challenges that we’d be faced with had this been a larger spill,” said Schantz.

Since the spill was first reported, more than 290 people, dozens of vessels and just under 22,000 feet of boom have been deployed.

Clarification — an earlier version of this post said over 23,000 feet of boom has been deployed. Alyeska has updated its estimate for the amount of boom deployed to just under 22,000 feet.

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