A Russian tanker Wednesday was nearly finished pumping fuel to the iced-in city of Nome, having sent more than half of the 1.3 million gallons of diesel and gasoline through two hoses snaking across the ice.
The remote Western Alaska coastal city has been anticipating its winter fuel delivery since November when a powerful storm prevented the delivery by barge. The tanker left Russia in mid-December and pushed through miles of ice to begin the high-stakes delivery on Monday.
About 296,000 gallons of unleaded gasoline and more than half the diesel fuel, or 580,000 gallons, had been pumped off the ship. Vitus Marine LLC manager Stacey Smith said all the fuel could be off the ship by the end of the day.
The city has had enough fuel to date, but the winter has been bitterly cold, even by Alaska standards. Wednesday's temperatures hovered around minus 6 degrees. The fuel's arrival should eliminate any shortages until a barge delivery in late spring.
Larry Hartig, commissioner for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said in a Jan. 3 decision that his agency had found there was not enough home heating oil, gasoline or ultra-low sulfur diesel to get the city through the winter and spring. Hartig determined that, without action, home heating fuel could run low and "clearly jeopardize the residents' ability to heat their homes and survive late winter and spring conditions."
Officials considered flying fuel in from Kotzebue and Bethel, but determined that proposal would be too costly. DEC estimated the cost of flying fuel to Nome at between $3.5 million and $4.9 million.
In the end, it turned out cheaper to bring it in by Russian tanker, said Jason Evans, board chairman of Sitnasuak Native Corp., which arranged for the tanker to make a delivery.
Some Nome residents have worried the delivery would hike up prices that are already at nearly $6 a gallon.
Evans was not prepared Wednesday to say how much the tanker fuel will eventually sell for but said it would be competitively priced.
Evans also declined to say how much the tanker operation cost.