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FAIRBANKS Crude oil resumed flowing through the trans-Alaska oil pipeline Sunday after workers welded over a bullet hole in the line that caused 285,600 gallons of oil to spew onto the Alaska wilderness.
Permanent repairs on the line 75 miles north of Fairbanks were completed late Saturday night and North Slope oil began flowing at 3:24 a.m. Sunday, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. spokesman Mike Heatwole said.
The pipeline, which carries about 17 percent of the nation's oil production or about 1 million barrels a day, had to be shut down after the line was shot Thursday.
A hydraulic clamp was initially placed over the damaged area to stop the spill of oil. What's called a "Thread O Ring" plug was later welded onto the pipeline. Pipeline officials said the procedure is proven technology and has been used in previous repair operations.
Crews now are focusing on the massive cleanup, which could take years to complete, said Bill Howitt, an Alyeska vice president.
As of Sunday night, Alyeska reported collecting nearly 108,402 gallons of crude oil from the spill site.
The man charged with causing the spill remained in a Fairbanks jail today in lieu of $1.5 million bail.
Daniel Carson Lewis, 37, is charged with felony assault, weapons misconduct, criminal mischief and driving while intoxicated in connection with the shooting. He was turned in by his brother, Randolph Lewis, who stayed at the scene after Daniel allegedly fled in an all-terrain vehicle.
Oil companies were told they could resume full use of the 800-mile pipeline at about 7 a.m. Sunday, nearly three days after the gunshot began the massive spill.
Phillips Alaska was pumping oil to full capacity within 12 hours, a spokeswoman said. BP Exploration (Alaska) officials expected to be at a similar level by Sunday night. Those and other oil companies form the consortium Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which operates the pipeline between Prudhoe Bay and Valdez.
Oil companies on the North Slope were asked to reduce their production by 95 percent during the shutdown.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Michelle Brown toured the spill site Saturday. She watched as workers wearing breathing apparatus and protective clothing prepared to remove a large, yellow temporary clamp.
The normally lonely stretch of pipeline was teeming with about 200 cleanup workers, engineers, welders, safety specialists and environmental regulators. A steady rain fell and an overwhelming stench of petroleum hung in the air.
Response officials said some 2 to 3 acres were contaminated by the spill. Brown said it could have been worse.
"It's actually a pretty small containment area for such a large amount of oil spilled," Brown said.