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Thursday, March 2, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Crude oil spills from transit line at Prudhoe Bay

The Associated Press

ANCHORAGE – An unknown quantity of crude oil spilled today from a 34-inch diameter pipeline at Prudhoe Bay on Alaska's North Slope, and dangerous fumes were preventing crews from cleanup work.

Crude oil could be seen on the snow-covered tundra more than 200 miles east of Barrow. Alaska Department of Conservation spokeswoman Lynda Giguere said the oil was pooling on the frozen ground.

The cause of the spill, discovered early this morning by BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. operators, had not been determined.

"It's a line that goes from one gathering center to another," Giguere said. The line carries finished, salable crude that eventually would find its way to the trans-Alaska pipeline, she said.

The BP-operated transit line was between Gathering Center 2 and Pump Station 1 in Prudhoe Bay's western operating unit. Gathering centers separate oil from water and other materials that come out of the ground during drilling.

The gathering center was shut down and the line blocked at each end and depressurized, DEC said.

BP safety personnel said high levels of volatile fumes were detected coming from the spilled oil by air monitors. A spill response team was kept away from the site until safety officials determined levels were safe.

DEC approved the use of vacuum trucks to remove oil once site access was deemed safe.

Weather was expected to help with cleanup efforts, Giguere said.

The temperature at Barrow reached a low of 37 degrees below zero on Wednesday. Sunny skies and patchy ice fog marked the spill site today, and high temperatures were predicted to reach 15 below to 25 below.

East winds of 10 to 20 mph were expected to push wind chill for workers to 65 below zero.

Giguere said the cold temperature will cause the crude oil to thicken and gel.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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