Alaska’s New Oil Stain

Yet another oil spill has hit this summer, this time from a pipeline owned by BP in Alaska. The pipeline is part of BP’s Lisburne oilfield, which produces about 30,000 barrels per day. On Saturday, July 16, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) reported that the pipeline had ruptured during testing, while the field was closed for maintenance. The rupture leaked between 2,100 and 4,200 gallons of methanol mixed with oily water onto the Alaskan tundra before it was contained. That amounts to about 100 barrels, according to BP. By the next day, up to 15 barrels worth of spilled fluid had been recovered.

According to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the entire Lisburne field been shut down for maintenance and has not produced oil since June 18. While the spill is addressed, the field will remain in prolonged shutdown. BP Alaska spokesperson Dawn Patience told Reuters, “The planned maintenance is ongoing” in spite of the spill. The burst occurred as workers were conducting a pressure test on valve replacements inside the eight-inch-thick pipeline. The pipe ruptured at 949 pounds per square inch (psi) during the test, but the pipeline is built to withstand up to 2,000 psi of pressure. Workers near the rupture reportedly felt the earth shake, according to Tom DeRuyter, an Alaska DEC official, who added that workers in a nearby building also felt the rumbles.

This oil leak may be minor compared to spills like the devastating Deepwater Horizon disaster on the Gulf of Mexico last year, but it comes right on the heels of a larger spill. Just a few weeks prior, an Exxon Mobil oil pipeline burst beneath the Yellowstone River, pouring tens of thousands of gallons into the flooded Montana water system. Now, the BP spill in Alaska draws added—and for the oil industry, unwanted—attention to the debatable safety, and necessity, of oil production.