Crews remove snow from damaged Alaska pipeline oil tanks

Mar 25, 2022, 10:36 AM | Updated: Mar 26, 2022, 6:12 am

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Workers at the end point of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline are using saws to cut up large blocks of hard-packed snow on top of oil storage tanks so they can shove the chunks off the tanks.

More than four feet (1.2 meters) of snow fell in the community of Valdez between mid-February and mid-March, causing the snow buildup that has damaged infrastructure and vented petroleum vapors into the environment, the Anchorage Daily News reported Friday.

Wet weather then caused the snow to freeze during colder weather, said Donna Schantz, who leads the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council. The group monitors the activities of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which operates the pipeline.

The tanks are located at the Valdez Marine Terminal and Alyeska said it has periodically taken some of the 14 tanks out of service. There have been no disruptions to oil shipments, the company said.

As many as 80 contractors wearing respirators to protect them from fumes are working in shifts around the clock to clear the snow off the tanks, Alyeska spokesperson Michelle Egan said. Additional resources are expected.

The contractors are roped to the tops of the tanks and must use handsaws to remove the snow since they can’t use power tools because of the risk of sparks that could set the petroluem products in the tanks on fire.

Each of the 14 tanks is 62 feet (19 meters) tall and spans 1 acre (0.40 hectares). It generally takes a crew of 10 or 11 people up to two weeks to clear snow from each tank.

“That is taking tremendous focus,” Egan said. “We do things very methodically, very safely. It takes as long as it takes.”

The tanks hold the oil until it is loaded onto tankers for shipment. Alyeska is owned by affiliates of North Slope producers ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Hilcorp. The pipeline moves about 500,000 barrels of crude a day through the 800-mile (1,287-kilometer) pipeline.

Up to four tanks have been taken out of service at various points after the snow pileup sheared off valves installed along the upper edges of the tank roofs. The valves are part of a system used to regulate vapors coming off the oil, and the accumulated snow created enough downward force to knock off 10 valves, Alyeska said.

Workers are installing temporary caps in place of the damaged valves.

A state regulator said at least seven tanks have released vapors into the atmosphere, violating Alyeska’s Clean Air Act permit.

Potential penalties or enforcement actions haven’t been decided yet, Moses Coss, an official with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said.

“We have been in contact with our regulators since the beginning,” Egan said in an email to the Daily News. “We followed our permit and reported emissions appropriately.”

The contractors are wearing respirators because the broken valves are allowing the release of hydrocarbons like benzene, a carcinogenic chemical that is dangerous at high levels of exposure.

The federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration “sets the limit for benzene exposure; our limits are more conservative,” Egan said. “We do not permit workers to work in areas with detectable levels of hydrocarbon without respirators.”

The workers wear traction devices and are roped to the tanks to prevent them from falling.

Four workers have slipped while removing snow, which the company described as “first aid injuries” in a letter to employees. A copy was obtained by the Anchorage newspaper.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Eggs are displayed on store shelves at a local grocery store in Chandler, Ariz., Jan. 21, 20...
Associated Press

FACT FOCUS: Egg shortage breeds chicken-feed conspiracies

Social media users claim to have found a new culprit for sky-high egg prices: chicken feed. The theory gained steam on Facebook, TikTok and Twitter in recent weeks, with some users reporting that their hens stopped laying eggs and speculating that common chicken feed products were the cause. Some went a step further to suggest […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Ransomware attacks in Europe target old VMware, agencies say

ROME (AP) — Cybersecurity agencies in Europe are warning of ransomware attacks exploiting a 2-year-old computer bug as Italy experienced widespread internet outages. The Italian premier’s office said Sunday night the attacks affecting computer systems in the country involved “ransomware already in circulation” in a product made by cloud technology provider VMware. A Friday technical […]
18 hours ago
FILE - A fuel trucks drives along a highway in Frankfurt, Germany, Jan. 27, 2023. European Union go...
Associated Press

Europe bans Russian diesel, other oil products over Ukraine

The new sanctions create uncertainty about prices as the 27-nation European Union finds new supplies of diesel from the U.S., Middle East and India.
18 hours ago
FILE - Visitors arrive at the Adventureland Park amusement park, July 6, 2021, in Altoona, Iowa. On...
Associated Press

Ride at Iowa amusement park where boy died will never reopen

ALTOONA, Iowa (AP) — The ride at an Iowa amusement park where an 11-year-old boy was killed in 2021 will never reopen, the park’s owners said. Bill Lentz, Adventureland’s general manager, said in a letter posted on the park’s website Friday that after spending months reviewing the safety of the Raging River ride, officials decided […]
18 hours ago
East Palestine resident Kathy Burr waits for help at the Norfolk Southern Assistance Center at the ...
Associated Press

Evacuations urged in Ohio town as train wreck smolders

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (AP) — A smoldering tangle of dozens of derailed freight cars, some carrying hazardous materials, has kept an evacuation order in effect in Ohio near the Pennsylvania state line as environmental authorities warily watch air quality monitors. About 50 cars derailed in East Palestine at about 9 p.m. Friday as a train […]
18 hours ago
This image released by Universal Pictures shows Dave Bautista, from left, Abby Quinn, and Nikki Amu...
Associated Press

‘Knock at the Cabin’ knocks off ‘Avatar’ at the box office

NEW YORK (AP) — For the first time in almost two months, the box office doesn’t belong to blue people. After seven weeks as the top film in theaters, “Avatar: The Way of Water” was finally knocked out of the No. 1 spot by the M. Night Shyamalan thriller “Knock at the Cabin” and the […]
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
Quantum Fiber

Stream 4K and more with powerful, high-speed fiber internet

Picking which streaming services to subscribe to are difficult choices, and there is no room for internet that cannot handle increased demands.
Crews remove snow from damaged Alaska pipeline oil tanks