ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Oil continued to spew like a geyser from the trans-Alaska oil pipeline Friday, more than 24 hours after a man shot a hole in the line.
Crews struggled to plug the hole and clean up the more than 260,000 gallons of oil spilled, but the work was proceeding slowly due to explosive vapors at the site, said Brad Hahn of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
“You have to try to suppress the vapors with fire suppression foam, and you have to use large fans to blow the explosive vapors away from the work area,” Hahn said.
Oil sprayed onto about two acres of trees, brush and tundra. The shooting occurred Thursday afternoon about 75 miles north of Fairbanks.
The suspect, Daniel Carson Lewis, 37, was arraigned Friday in Fairbanks Superior Court and was being held on $1.5 million bail.
According to charging documents, Lewis, who has an extensive criminal background, had been drinking before shooting the pipeline with a .338-caliber rifle. He is charged with driving while intoxicated, weapons misconduct, felony assault and criminal mischief.
When the bullet penetrated the pipe, Lewis fled on an all-terrain vehicle, according to charging documents. His brother, Randolph Lewis, remained at the scene and explained to pipeline security officers what had happened. Randolph Lewis told investigators his brother had threatened him with the gun.
But Daniel Lewis told Alaska State Troopers he was asleep at his home at the time of the shooting.
Gov. Tony Knowles called the incident “a hare-brained act of violence.”
Knowles said state officials would be taking another look at security along the 800-mile pipeline. Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which operates the line, had beefed up security in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“Clearly, the fact that one person with a rifle can do this much damage is a point of concern in terms of vulnerability,” Knowles said.
Workers built a series of dikes to contain the spilled oil and keep it away from the Tolovana River, about a mile away. More than 8,000 gallons had been collected by vacuum trucks and was being stored in tanks near the site, Hahn said.
The pipeline has been dented by bullets in the past, but Thursday’s incident marked the first time a bullet had pierced the line. The 48-inch pipe is protected by an outer layer of galvanized steel and nearly 4 inches of insulation. The steel wall of the pipe is about a half-inch thick.
An act of sabotage on the pipeline in 1978 resulted in a spill of 670,000 gallons of oil. A hole was blasted in the line with explosives at Steel Creek, near Fairbanks. No one was ever arrested in that attack.
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