Clamp on gunshot hole in Alaska pipeline stops oil leak, cleanup of 285,600 gallons continues

Sunday, October 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) _ Crews on Saturday installed a clamp over a bullet hole in the trans-Alaska pipeline, finally stopping a leak that spewed 285,600 gallons of oil onto the wilderness over three days.

With the temporary repair in place, workers turned their attention to a permanent fix and the massive job of cleaning up some two acres of trees, brush and tundra 75 miles north of Fairbanks. Regulators said there was no evidence that any wildlife has been affected.

``We anticipate it will take literally years to get the area free of contamination,'' said Bill Howitt, a vice president of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which operates the 800-mile pipeline.

A man who had been drinking shot the pipeline Thursday with a hunting rifle in what the governor called ``a hare-brained act of violence.'' Before the clamp was installed, oil under high pressure sprayed through the hole. At one point, oil flowed onto the ground at a rate as high as 140 gallons per minute.

The pipeline, which carries about 17 percent of the nation's oil production, had to be shut down.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Michelle Brown, who toured the area Saturday, said it could have been worse.

``It's actually a pretty small containment area for such a large amount of oil spilled,'' Brown said.

The suspect, Daniel Carson Lewis, 37, is charged with felony assault, weapons misconduct, criminal mischief and driving while intoxicated in connection with the shooting. He was being held in Fairbanks on $1.5 million bail.

According to documents, Lewis, who has an extensive criminal background, had been drinking before shooting the pipeline with a .338-caliber rifle. He allegedly fired four shots before the fifth penetrated the pipe.

Lewis then fled on an all-terrain vehicle, according to the documents. His brother, Randolph Lewis, remained at the scene and explained to pipeline security officers what happened. He said his brother, Daniel, had pointed the rifle at him and threatened to kill him.

Investigators have not determined why Daniel Lewis started shooting.

Workers built a series of dikes to contain the spilled oil and keep it away from the Tolovana River, about a mile away. The oil was being vacuumed into trucks and transferred to storage tanks. By Saturday afternoon, nearly 80,000 gallons had been collected.

A permanent clamp on the pipeline was expected to be in place by Sunday morning, and it was to be back in operation a few hours later.

Gov. Tony Knowles said state officials would be taking another look at security along the pipeline. Alyeska had beefed up security in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The pipeline carries about 1 million barrels of oil a day. Oil companies on the North Slope were asked to reduce their production by 95 percent during the shutdown.

Pipeline officials said people have shot at the pipeline more than 50 times but never caused enough damage to produce a spill.

In 1978, about 670,000 gallons of oil spilled after a hole was blasted with explosives near Fairbanks. No one has been arrested in that case.