On November 29th, a 24-inch jagged rupture in an oil pipeline in Alaska's North Slope led to one of the worst spills in the region's history. The pipeline was shut off, and the source was discovered on December 3rd. But so far at least 46,000 gallons of crude oil and contaminated water have poured out into the surrounding Alaskan wilderness.Pressure Caused Pipe to Burst
While certainly no Exxon Valdez, the nearly 50,000 gallons of crude oil and produced water expected to be released from the spill will still have the potential to be very destructive. Here's how the spill occurred, according to ADN:
Officials say massive ice plugs had formed inside the pipe, which caused BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. to stop operating it a few weeks ago. Pressure then built up until the pipeline ruptured, according to BP. "It looks like it was caused by overpressure in the pipe, which we think was linked to ice forming -- the plugs that have formed on either side of the release site," BP spokesman Steve Rinehart said.The result was one of the biggest spills that officials have ever seen. Tom DeRuyter, the on-scene coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said the "breach on the bottom of the pipe was the biggest he had ever seen and indicative of the incredible pressure the pipeline was under when it split."
Cleanup Difficult on Alaska's North Slope
Cleaning up the spill is proving to be a tough task, and teams are trying different approaches to get the oil out of the environment:
They've used a steamer with a four-foot head to melt contaminated snow, which is then vacuumed up. They've flushed out the spill site with warm water. They've used Bobcats to scoop up the mess and vehicles called Rolligons with huge, low-pressure tires to haul it away. They're building an ice road for trucks, though the weather at times has been too warm for the ice road work.There's no word yet on the spill's damage to nearby wildlife or ecosystems.
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