Drilling equipment accident results in fluid spill at Kensington site

Posted: Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A piece of drilling equipment for the Kensington Gold Mine fell on Friday and leaked a small amount of hydraulic fluid into Slate Creek Cove, north of Juneau.

The equipment, a core drill, apparently shifted weight and fell off the skid it was mounted on as a forklift carried it onto the beach at Slate Creek Cove. A temporary dock at the cove in Berners Bay is being used as an unloading site for mine construction materials.

State environmental specialist Scot Tiernan said Monday that because of the heavy rainfall at the time of the accident, he expects little chance of adverse environmental effects.

When the drill fell onto the beach, two housings for its hydraulic filters broke and spilled about 2.5 to 3 gallons of hydraulic fluid, a petroleum-based mixture, which washed into the cove, according to the report from the Southeast Alaska Spill Response Team.

Because of the rain, the fluid quickly migrated from the beach into the cove and dispersed before workers could clean it all up, Tiernan said. The company reported the accident promptly, he added.

The state is not contemplating any penalty for the mine developer, Coeur Alaska, or its contractors at this time, said Tiernan, a specialist with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

"I wouldn't consider (this) worthy of a penalty action," Tiernan said.

This is the third minor spill that Coeur Alaska has reported to the state since the company began building the mine in Berners Bay in early July.

Two to 3 ounces of kerosene spilled at Comet Beach in August and about 2 gallons of diesel spilled into Slate Creek Cove in September, Tiernan said.

Neither of those spills triggered penalties.

"We don't see a chronic problem yet," Tiernan said, noting that such small spills likely occur eight to 10 times per day in Juneau's boat harbors.

"If we see something that is smacking of a lackadaisical attitude, we would become more concerned," Tiernan added.

John Hudson, a member of the Friends of Berners Bay environmental group, disagreed.

"In a pristine ecosystem like Berners Bay, these spills are serious. We can only expect that more accidental spills will occur as-mining related activities increase in Berners Bay," he said.

"Generally, we are not happy with any spill or accident," said Luke Russell, Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp.'s vice president for environmental services. The Idaho-based corporation owns Coeur Alaska. "We're working to make sure it doesn't happen again."

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.

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