Crude spill at Valdez Terminal under investigation

The Valdez Marine Terminal, where a spill was discovered early Saturday morning. At this time, it is thought that most of the oil was contained to the berth. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Interior)

Officials are looking in to what caused an oil spill discovered Saturday morning at the Valdez Marine Terminal.

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According to Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, which operates the terminal, under 200 gallons of oil leaked from two arms used to load crude onto tankers.

Alyeska reports most of the oil was contained to the berth, and state officials have seen no evidence that oil reached the water. But according to Geoff Merrell with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, due to rough sea conditions, it’s probable some crude escaped containment and then was naturally dispersed.

Alyeska spokesperson Kate Dugan said the spill’s cause is still unknown. She confirmed the leak is not ongoing.

The incident happened at the same berth where a different spill happened last September. Back then, over 140 gallons of crude residue leaked into the Port of Valdez during an annual test of the loading arms, of which nearly 130 gallons was recovered. An investigation later determined that spill was primarily caused by human error.

Brooke Taylor with the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, a watchdog group, said it’s too soon to say if there’s any relationship between the two spills, but she added valve issues may be a common factor.

“Any time you have two incidents and there is a piece of equipment that is even in part contributing to that situation, that’s then going to highlight this is an area that should be looked at very closely and possibly corrected,” Taylor said.

Icy conditions affecting valves could have contributed to Saturday’s spill, Taylor said. She said Alyeska was already looking at making improvements to the terminal’s valves before this weekend’s spill.

Alyeska reports that Saturday’s incident did not impact the trans-Alaska pipeline’s operations. In addition to the state and Alyeska, the U.S. Coast Guard also responded to the incident.