Gas line leak fixed in Shishmaref; cleanup will continue in the spring

A gasoline sheen along the Shishmaref shoreline. (Photo: Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)
A gasoline sheen along the Shishmaref shoreline. (Photo: Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

A leaking gas line in Shishmaref has finally been fixed about a year and half after a village public safety officer first discovered an oily sheen along the northern coast of Sarichef Island. Officials with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) said the leak came from a tank farm fuel line owned by the Shishmaref Native Store.

While responders from the DEC and U.S. Coast Guard could not identify the substance during the first round of cleanup last summer, they eventually tracked down the source after testing samples when the sheen reappeared last December and then again in May. Lab results revealed the substance to be gasoline, which pointed agencies toward the origin of the leak — the community’s sole gas line.

George Kakoona works at the Shishmaref Native Store. He said they used pressure testing to locate holes in the line this fall, before setting a repair weld.

“We had to get a guy to do the hydrostatic test on the line. We saw we had a couple leaks on there,” said Kakoona. “It took us a while, but it’s fixed. We checked it. After we got done with it, we did the hydrostatic test again and it holds pressure. The pipe and everything is all good.”

The cause of the leak is unknown. But with the gas line fixed and suitable for fuel transfers, the DEC closed their investigation Nov. 3.

There have been no reports of impacted wildlife, which Kakoona credits to early efforts aimed at containing the spill.

It looks good because most of [the gas] washed up while we were doing cleaning,” said Kakoona. “When the Cost Guard came up here, they showed me how to put pads and booms down there and wait until it soaked out of the ground.”

That resulted in about 100 gallons of recovered fuel and 30 hazmat bags of oily waste, which were removed last summer. Still, officials said it’s unclear how much gas spilled in total, given how long the leak lingered.

For the same reason, Jessica Starsman — an environmental protection specialist with the DEC — said there’s still cleanup to be done.

“Because that leak was there and we had gasoline continually leaking out over time, we do have contaminated soils that will need to be addressed,” said Starsman.

But with ice and snow settling in, Tom DeRuyter said further cleanup is on hold until spring. DeRuyter is a state on-scene coordinator with the DEC. He said the department will oversee the Shishmaref Native Store as it continues cleanup efforts come breakup.

“We’ll continue to work with them,” said DeRuyter. “We’ll need to a get a cleanup plan from the Native Store on how they wish to address this area of contamination, and we’ll review their plans for adequacy.”

DeRuyter said it’s unclear how much residual cleanup will cost, but the Native Store will cover the expenses as the owner of the gas line and the responsible party.