Alaska Digest

Posted: Thursday, October 28, 2004

Buoys to help in event of another big oil spill

ANCHORAGE - Six oceanographic buoys will be installed in Prince William Sound this spring for use by emergency responders if there is another big oil spill.

The six underwater buoys - two each on three strings - will be anchored to the ocean floor at Hinchinbrook entrance and Montague Strait in Prince William Sound in Southcentral Alaska. The sound is the site of the nearly 11 million-gallon Exxon Valdez tanker oil spill in 1989.

Data collected from the buoys will provide a map of water exchanges between the sound and the larger Gulf of Alaska. The information is vital for running a computer model in the event of another spill.

If oil spill responders know where the water is going, then they will know where the oil is headed, and can get equipment and containment booms where needed, said Nancy Bird, president of the Prince William Sound Science Center, which is collaborating with the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council on the $730,956 federally funded project.

Prince William Sound is a busy place. The Valdez Marine Terminal is situated there, where oil from the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline is loaded onto tankers for the West Coast. Since pipeline startup in 1977, more than 18,000 tankers have transported over 13 billion barrels of oil from Alaska's North Slope.

The installation will bring the number of buoys to 12, Bird said, and fill in some important data gaps. However, the buoys can't eliminate the possibility of another big oil spill, she said.

"A lot of work has been done in the last 10 years to try to better understand the oceanography of Prince William Sound with more of a plan to be prepared for the future," she said. "We certainly have probably the best response capability in place in North America, if not the world. That said, human error is always going to be our biggest weakness and looming out there."

Attorney general sells KFx Inc. shares

ANCHORAGE - A spokesman for Attorney General Gregg Renkes says Renkes has sold his stock in KFx Inc. after it was revealed he was trading shares while promoting the company for a proposed state project.

Renkes sold the stock Oct. 6 and is "completing a process" of donating the profits to charities, said Department of Law spokesman Mark Morones.

Renkes also is setting up a blind trust that will include all of his stock holdings. The donations should be made and the blind trust set up by the end of next week, Morones said.

Renkes became the subject of an ethics investigation by an independent counsel after reports surfaced earlier this month that Renkes was a company stockholder and once worked for the Colorado company as a paid adviser.

KFx, a Denver firm with a patented coal-drying process, is part of a $1 billion trade agreement between Alaska and Taiwan. Both Renkes and Gov. Frank Murkowski have promoted KFx as a company with a technology that could spur development of the Beluga coal beds west of Anchorage.

KFx was the largest holding in Renkes' $800,000 stock portfolio, and a Juneau broker actively traded it for Renkes as the state negotiated the trade deal with Taiwan, Renkes and the broker have said.

Morones said he didn't know how much money Renkes made from the sale of KFx stock. The attorney general's disclosure reports indicated he owned 13,100 shares of KFx. At the close of trading Oct. 6, the shares were worth about $96,000.

Benzene at Sterling may stay for decades

KENAI - Benzene from a gasoline leak in Sterling has apparently stopped spreading but the pollution likely will be around for decades, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

DEC officials on Monday gave residents an update on cleanup progress and announced plans to install a vapor extraction system to capture benzene vapors.

Sterling is a Kenai Peninsula community of nearly 5,000 about 18 miles east of Kenai.

An engineering firm hired in 2002 by Whittier Properties Inc., owner of the Zip Mart gas station in Sterling, found heavily contaminated soil and ground water. A foot of gasoline was detected floating on top of ground water in two monitoring wells at the site.

A DEC investigation revealed that a fill pipe was not properly connected to underground storage tanks. Much of the gasoline delivered did not reach tanks and spilled onto the ground.

Record keeping discrepancies have not allowed accurate spill estimates but officials guess 50,000 to 120,000 gallons of gasoline spilled.

Airline to resume service to Fairbanks

FAIRBANKS - Delta Air Lines will resume seasonal service to Fairbanks after a three-year hiatus.

Fairbanks International Airport manager Jesse VanderZanden said the flights to and from Salt Lake City are scheduled to begin on May 13 and run through Sept. 11 next year.

The flights to and from Fairbanks are part of Delta's recent efforts to provide access to more destinations from its Salt Lake City and Atlanta hubs, according to a company news release.

Delta pulled out of the Fairbanks airport in 2001 after 14 years in the market, citing a dip in passengers and declining profits.

Fairbanks Economic Development Corp. negotiated with Delta on the return. Anders Westman, airport marketing director for the economic development group, said the Salt Lake City to Fairbanks link was attractive to Delta because the airliner could avoid having to compete with Alaska Airlines on flights through the Anchorage to Seattle hub.

"The Seattle to Anchorage hub is pretty much strong Alaska (Airlines) territory," Westman said.

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