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Response to oily water spill near Valdez continues after nearly 3 weeks

Nearly three weeks after its discovery, an unusual spill of oily water at the Valdez Marine Terminal continued to frustrate responders, though dozens of workers have been sent home amid continued progress.

Overflight of the Valdez Marine Terminal, on Monday, April 27, 2020. (Photo courtesy Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.)

Oily water that’s seeping downhill is being captured by newly installed “collection boxes" at the shore, according to a report on Friday from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The oily water is being removed before it reaches Port Valdez.

Crews continue to shrink the spill’s footprint, and a response force of more than 240 has been reduced to about 170 personnel, the report said. But excavation crews on the ground continue hunting for the spill’s flow path, the report said.

“With a determination that the threat of the spill is limited, the spill management process is now looking to scale back while continuing response actions to finish the cleanup,” the report said.

The incident management team is “developing plans to move from the emergency response phase into a project phase," the report said.

Since the spill’s discovery on April 12, responders have removed about 16 barrels of oil from the water, and 30 gallons from the ground.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. operates the terminal, where oil is loaded into oceangoing tankers.

The spill began at a sump, or collection well, designed to capture rainwater and other runoff from an industrial area that includes diesel fuel tanks and a parking lot. It flowed about a quarter-mile downhill to the water, beneath snow and at least partly underground. The cause of the spill is under investigation.

Mechanical failures that led to the spill include a debris-clogged valve in a pipe near the sump. Also, an alarm designed to notify personnel at the operations control center was not triggered.

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