BBC News is reporting that a hole of unspecified size in the 34-inch diameter trans-Alaska oil pipeline near Prudhoe Bay released approximately 267,000 gallons of crude oil onto about two acres of snow-covered land. The accident occurred in a section of pipe that had suffered uncorrected internal corrosion, leading to concerns about the overall integrity of the pipeline and inspection procedures that allowed such deterioration to proceed to such an extent that the casing was compromised from the inside clear out. Moreover, according to the BBC report, although the leak was found on March 2, it is not known when it began.
Former state oil analyst Richard Fineberg said that it is too early to determine the extent of environmental consequences, but he downplayed the significance of the problems that could arise, citing the fact that the area in which the spill occurred is "industrial," not pristine wilderness. Individuals from the environmental group Alaska Wilderness League, however, have already described the oil spill as a "catastrophe."
As noted above, the spill is believed to cover no more than two acres; however, it is the largest spill to date on the North Slope. The BP Exploration aerial photo at left shows the surface view of the accident site, but this picture likely understates the extent of what occurred. The crude traveling through the pipe is hot, and the leaking oil would for the most part have sunk into the snow and possibly the permafrost beneath, moving outward in a manner unseen from aerial or even ground-level photographs made with visible-light cameras. How far the oil migrated both downward into the soil and outward away from the point where it was flowing from the hole in the pipe is not known at this time.
Petroleum experts anticipate that, in the constant sub-zero temperatures of the Prudhoe Bay area, the spilled crude will eventually congeal into a gel, which should slow migration of the lost oil and make recovery easier, although that remains to be seen as clean-up crews clear away the snow to examine the extent of spill movement both outward and downward.
The Dark Wraith trusts that readers have already seen extensive coverage by the mainstream media of this oil spill.