Alaska News

Hatchery operator to pay $1 million for illegally burning waste oil and jet fuel in Prince William Sound

An Alaska salmon hatchery operator will pay $1 million and plead guilty to illegally burning waste oil and jet fuel at a remote site in Prince William Sound in a 2018 incident that severely burned an employee, according to a plea agreement unveiled last week in federal court.

The Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. will pay a $450,000 fine and plead guilty to one count of illegal disposal of hazardous waste, the 18-page agreement says. The private nonprofit company will also pay $550,000 in restitution to the employee, and follow an environmental compliance plan during a five-year probationary period, the agreement says.

The company operates five hatcheries in the Prince William Sound region, including three owned by the state, providing salmon for fishermen. Remote hatcheries need oil and fuel to support operations that include buildings, vehicles and living quarters for crew.

The agreement was signed Oct. 17 between Geoff Clark, the hatchery operator’s general manager, on behalf of the hatchery, and assistant U.S. attorney Jennifer Ivers. Magistrate Kyle F. Reardon has set a hearing in U.S. District Court in Anchorage on Nov. 9, where the terms of the agreement will be presented.

Clark did not respond to requests for an interview. Jeffrey Robinson, an attorney for the company with Ashburn and Mason, said he could not comment while the case is ongoing.

The illegal burn occurred on July 27, 2018 at the state-owned Cannery Creek Hatchery located in Unakwik Inlet, about 40 miles east of Whittier in Chugach National Forest.

It was not an isolated incident for the company, which must transport its fuel and other materials to remote sites by plane or barge, and has struggled with handling accumulated waste oil and fuel, the agreement says.


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“The disposal of drums containing used oil was a long-standing issue at PWSAC’s hatcheries, and there was a historical practice at some sites of burning the drums so they could be crushed and disposed of,” the agreement says.

The 2018 burn occurred when the maintenance manager at the Cannery Creek site, Michael Tompkins, ordered workers to burn four 55-gallon drums containing a mix of waste oil and jet fuel in an open burn pit, the agreement says. Tompkins asked the workers to puncture the drums to increase airflow during the burning, and to leave the bung holes atop the drums open.

During the disposal, one drum fell over, causing jet fuel to spill from the bung hole and ignite, burning an employee who required a medevac flight to safety. His injuries, including mental health impacts and disfiguring scars to his face, neck and hands, resulted in costs and employment losses between $580,000 and $805,000, the agreement says.

After learning of the employee’s injuries, criminal authorities with the Environmental Protection Agency launched an investigation into the hatchery’s disposal practices, the agreement says.

The agreement does not say how much oil and jet fuel was released into the environment. Anna Carey, environmental program specialist with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said Monday the company reported a spill at the burn pit of less than five gallons. The amount was not enough to trigger a fine from the state, but the agency investigated and required a proper cleanup of the contaminated soil, Carey said.

In an earlier incident, the agreement says that the company in 2017 accepted a civil settlement and a $55,000 fine with the state, to resolve a 400-gallon diesel fuel spill from a heating oil tank at the Cannery Creek Hatchery in 2013.

That settlement required that an environmental consulting firm audit the hatcheries and develop a compliance plan for each with a Dec. 31, 2017 deadline.

The review found concerns about how to handle accumulated waste oil and fuel at other Prince William Sound hatcheries, the settlement said.

“In June 2018, the Armin F. Koernig Hatchery spilled diesel fuel into Sawmill Bay while rinsing a mislabeled 55-gallon drum containing diesel fuel,” the agreement says. “In July 2018, the manager of a third hatchery, the Main Bay Hatchery, emailed PWSAC management requesting assistance removing used oil and was told that PWSAC was ‘working on a strategy for removal,’ likely by finding ‘a site that can stage or burn the used oil.’ ”

The review by the consulting firm also led to findings that the Cannery Creek Hatchery was storing oil products in various spots without the appropriate protection to prevent a spill. The improper storage continued at least six months after 2017, the deadline for compliance, according to the agreement.

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Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or