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ANCHORAGE - An abandoned underground pipeline may have leaked up to 80,000 gallons of jet fuel in an Anchorage neighborhood, according to state environmental officials.
The contamination was initially blamed on a nearby gas station, but a lawsuit over cleanup costs led to the discovery that the real culprit was the pipeline, which for decades carried jet fuel from the Port of Anchorage to Anchorage International Airport.
The pipeline was built in 1962 and shut down last year after a new pipeline was opened along Cook Inlet.
The leaked fuel contaminated groundwater, but has not spread to drinking water wells, said Robert Weimer, an environmental technician with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
``No one is drawing drinking water from the area where this contamination is, so there's not a current risk. But the product needs to be recovered,'' he said.
Anchorage Fueling and Service Co., the company that owns the leaking pipeline, said in a statement Friday that it accepts responsibility for the spill. The company is working on a cleanup plan, which it will submit to DEC within the next few weeks.
Weimer said he expects the cleanup to take years and cost at least $1 million.
The state estimates that between 40,000 and 80,000 gallons of jet fuel may still be in the ground, based on what has been found in test wells. But the spill was probably larger than that, Weimer said.
First detected in 1994, the spill was originally blamed on Texaco, whose service station had contaminated groundwater with a 3,000-gallon gasoline spill in 1989.
The DEC asked the pipeline company at the time to test its pipeline, but no leaks were discovered, Weimer said.
Texaco continued its cleanup and also sued to recover costs, which it thought should be paid by the pipeline company. More spilled fuel showed up in test wells in December 1997, but further pipeline checks still didn't show any leaks.
Anchorage Fueling and Service dug up 500 feet of its pipeline over Memorial Day weekend to prove that it hadn't leaked. But it discovered that the line not only leaked, but may have been doing so since it was installed, Weimer said.
The leak appeared to have originated from a bad weld at an elbow bend of the pipe. It is unclear why the leak didn't show up during pipeline pressure tests.
The court case has been put on hold until mid-August, and Shell Oil, which built the pipeline, has been added to the lawsuit, according to the fuel service company's statement.