Diesel fuel spills in Gambell after pipeline fails

A road in Gambell. (File photo by KNOM)

In late June, a pipeline failed in Gambell causing an estimated 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel to spill, but the spill was only recently discovered, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

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The department’s state on-scene coordinator Tom DeRuyter says June 25, fuel was being delivered through a four-inch pipeline, leading from the barge landing to the Bering Strait School District and Gambell Native Store tank farms.

“The fuel went through this underground piping, and it obviously was compromised,” DeRuyter said. “A subsequent pressure test on the line indicated that it would not hold pressure. And we’re certain that that was the source of the release.”

According to the DEC situation report, the school district received the full amount — about 2,500 gallons — of fuel it ordered.

DeRuyter said the store’s records show it didn’t.

But the problem went unnoticed until last week, when people in the community reported smelling diesel and seeing a sheen in a small pond.

U.S. Coast Guard and DEC responders arrived July 13 to investigate, DeRuyter said. They’re still not sure of the full extent of the spill.

“There’s been no reports of oil getting out into the Bering Sea,” DeRuyter said. “Those are the only areas where oil has been noted.”

DeRuyter said the water supply has not been compromised, since Gambell doesn’t get its water from ground wells.

The valves on both ends of the pipeline have been closed, DeRuyter said.

The next steps include excavating the pipeline to figure out where exactly it broke, repairing it and then cleaning up the oil.

But first, they have to find digging equipment.

“Coming up with equipment out in Gambell is a very difficult thing,” DeRuyter said. “We’re checking all the entities that we know right now to see if they’ve got equipment, is it operational, do we have an operator, and how soon we can use it if they allow us to.”

Coast Guard and DEC investigation and clean-up efforts will be ongoing, DeRuyter said.

This is the second fuel spill this year on St. Lawrence Island, after 22,000 gallons spilled in March in Savoonga.

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