ANCHORAGE -- A temporary clamp has stopped the leak in the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, and officials late Saturday expected the pipeline to resume operations this morning after a permanent fix was made.
The pipeline was pierced by a bullet Thursday 75 miles north of Fairbanks, causing an estimated 285,600 gallons of crude oil to spill onto the tundra.
Nearly 44,000 gallons had been cleaned up by Saturday morning and the leaking was stopped by the afternoon, state officials said.
"Our plan is to remove gross contamination before freeze-up and we anticipate it will take literally years to get the area free of contamination," said Bill Howitt, an Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. vice president based in Fairbanks.
Just after 3 a.m. Saturday, crews used a hydraulic clamp to cover the hole that allowed oil to spew into the tundra. The temporary fix reduced flow onto the ground from as high as 140 gallons per minute to about a half-gallon per minute, and then stopped it. A permanent repair was scheduled to be made Saturday evening.
Daniel Carson Lewis, 37, is charged with felony assault, weapons misconduct, criminal mischief and driving while intoxicated in connection with the shooting. He is being held in Fairbanks on $1.5 million bail.
Lewis, who has a history of minor criminal convictions, is charged with firing at the pipeline multiple times with a .338-caliber rifle sometime between 2:45 and 3 p.m. Thursday. Troopers found four bullet strikes in the pipeline near the puncture.
According to charging documents, when a bullet penetrated the pipe, Lewis fled on an all-terrain vehicle. His brother, Randolph Lewis, remained at the scene and explained to pipeline security officers what had happened.
Daniel Lewis was apprehended at about 6 p.m. Thursday At about 10 p.m., while in Alaska State Troopers custody in Fairbanks, Lewis registered a breath alcohol content of 0.148, almost double the legal limit for driving a motor vehicle.
The leak was near a valve at the foot of a long uphill climb for the pipeline. When workers discovered the leak and shut down the pipeline, about 840,000 gallons of oil on the hill flowed backward to rest on a valve near the bullet hole. The weight of the oil put intense pressure on the leak, an estimated 525 pounds per square inch, and oil sprayed out 75 feet.
Repair efforts Saturday were aided by actions away from the leak. Workers used a small hose to channel oil around the closed valve and into a section of undamaged pipe on the other side, reducing pressure inside the pipeline.
Oil has spilled onto two to three acres, the state said Saturday afternoon. Dikes channeled oil into four containment ponds, and workers used vacuum trucks to suck it up. One of the main concerns was keeping oil from the Tolovana River about one mile away.
No crude oil has reached the river, and there are no reports of oil impacting wildlife, state officials said Saturday afternoon.
Although the pipeline was shut down, tankers continued to load at the Valdez Marine Terminal using oil from storage tanks. Woolston said there is enough oil in Valdez to keep loading tankers until today.
The pipeline carries about 1 million barrels of oil a day, or 17 percent of domestic oil production. Oil companies on the North Slope were asked to reduce their production by 95 percent during the shutdown.
Indentations from bullets have been found in the line over the years. Pipeline officials said people have shot at the pipeline more than 50 times but never caused enough damage to produce a spill.
Woolston said pipeline security increased after the East Coast terrorism attacks Sept. 11 but he had no comment regarding changes since the shooting Thursday.
A U.S. Senate committee plans a hearing Tuesday on how to protect the country's energy supply from attack. The pipeline's security certainly will come up before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, sources in Washington, D.C. told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
The committee will look at a proposal from the Department of the Interior to provide for the protection of dams, facilities and other resources under its jurisdiction. The Interior Department oversees federal agencies that review pipeline operations in Alaska.
Willie Hensley, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.'s representative in Washington, said he had not heard of any legislative proposals directed at trans-Alaska pipeline security.
"It's a whole new ball game in terms of how people are looking at public infrastructure," he said. "It's going to take a while for people to think through what threats are out there. At what point does the company's responsibility end and the government's begin?"