Energy

Oily water continues to ooze into Port Valdez as snow on the ground complicates response

Oily water continued to seep into Port Valdez on Thursday as snow on the ground complicated efforts to halt a spill at the Valdez Marine Terminal that was discovered on Sunday.

The source of the spill, a drain area about a quarter-mile uphill from the coastline, was stopped on Monday, authorities reported. And oil on the water has been contained to a site near a small boat harbor at the terminal where tankers load up with oil.

But “some oily water is still entering the water in the vicinity of the small boat harbor as the spill makes its way downhill,” the incident management team said in a statement Thursday.

More than 650 barrels of water and oil, or 27,468 gallons, have been recovered, the team said.

The oily water is being contained by booms that stretch atop the water and skimmers that remove the polluted water, said Crystal Smith, the state on-scene coordinator and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation representative with the unified command team responding to the spill.

Crews are digging through snow, ice and dirt to find the path of the oil and stop it.

“Because of the nature of the spill and the snow cover in Valdez, determining the flow path and the spill amount is challenging,” Smith said.

“The Valdez Marine Terminal has multiple systems buried underground, so the crews must conduct careful research, surveying and deliberate planning before excavating the ground to determine the flow path,” said Commander Michael Franklin, the federal on-scene coordinator and U.S. Coast Guard representative for the response.

“This process can take time," he said. "Crews are working as safely and efficiently as possible.”

Oil-loading operations have not been affected by the spill or the response, the team said.

More than 150 workers on land, water and in the air have responded to the spill, and another 54 are working from a command post.

“All are working in accordance with state, local and Alyeska company policies and mandates in order to protect the health of the workforce and the surrounding communities amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” the team said in its statement.

That includes face coverings when people get near each other, social distancing when possible, frequent hand washing, using local resources whenever possible to minimize workers coming from out of town and sites ready to accept anyone should they become sick, said Michelle Egan, a spokeswoman with Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which operates the terminal.

In the command center in Valdez, people are keeping distance from each other and putting on gloves to stay safe, said Kate Dugan, an Alyeska employee representing the incident management team.

She said people are frequently using hand sanitizer and health messages about the virus are everywhere. People are video-conferencing into meetings and staying home whenever possible, she said.

“It’s really at the top of our mind as a major part of keeping each other and our responders safe,” she said.

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