A man was killed this week when the tanker truck he was driving crashed on the Dalton Highway north of Fairbanks, spilling 2,000 gallons of fuel in the latest accident for a small trucking company that has been involved in prominent crashes in recent years.
The 9,500-gallon tanker went off the road and rolled around 3 p.m. Monday near Mile 36 of the Dalton, according to a report from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The crash site is about 40 miles north of Livengood and 20 miles south of the Yukon River bridge.
Troopers said the driver, 60-year-old Richard Allen Flansberg of Delta Junction, was killed. He worked for Big State Logistics, which had a series of accidents in 2016 that led to a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency and shone a spotlight on the dangers associated with fuel hauls from the state’s southern coast to the northern Prudhoe Bay oil fields.
Employees with the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. took Flansberg’s passenger, 60-year-old Larry Bloodworth of Anchorage, toward Fairbanks to receive medical treatment and transferred him to first responders while en route, according to a company spokeswoman.
Larry Chesley, a longtime employee with the company, said Flansberg was a close friend who worked at Big State for much of his life. Chesley said the loss was a big one for the small company based in Fairbanks.
“To my knowledge this is the first fatality involving a truck this company has had,” Chesley said. “We’re a mom-and-pop, close-knit family. The loss of one of our own, especially a driver like Richard, is not taken easily for sure.”
The truck’s front tank was punctured in the crash, spilling about 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel, according to DEC.
The agency said some of the fuel was recovered using absorbent material, but most seeped into the soil. No fuel got into any waterway.
Troopers said road conditions may have contributed to the crash. Flansberg was not wearing a seatbelt, troopers said.
DEC is working with Big State Logistics to clean up the fuel.
Tom DeRuyter, the state’s on-scene coordinator for spills in northern Alaska, said Big State responded quickly to the accident. The company will hire an environmental contractor to remove contaminated soil from the site.
DeRuyter said tanker rollovers in the industry seem to have slowed in the last few years following an increase in 2015. But once winter rains glaze roads with ice, it’s not unusual for a truck to crash, no matter the company, he said. The trucks haul several thousand gallons of fuel, sometimes over mountainous, winding roads.
Big State had three rollovers along the Richardson Highway over two months in fall 2016, causing more than 4,000 gallons of fuel to spill off the roadside. For those spills, the company paid the EPA $43,000 to settle alleged violations of the Clean Water Act. The agency credited the company for a fast cleanup response.
Big State had another prominent rollover in February 2018 in Valdez, causing a 2,800-gallon fuel spill near a salmon-bearing tributary of the Robe River. The driver, Louis Nations, entered an intersection too fast and couldn’t complete a turn, the state said. Nations, who had just completed a safety course and drove a truck with no relevant mechanical issues, pleaded guilty to oil pollution in violation of Alaska laws.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated, based on information from Alaska State Troopers, that Larry Bloodworth was taken by Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. personnel to a medical facility at Pump Station 6. The pipeline company transported him toward Fairbanks and then transferred him to first responders while en route.