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Friday, March 3, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Crews continue Prudhoe cleanup; processing plant remains closed

The Associated Press

ANCHORAGE — Clean up crews have recovered more than 19,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from a pipeline leading from a Prudhoe Bay processing plant toward the trans-Alaska pipeline.

The cause of Thursday's leak and the total amount of oil spilled was still not known, officials said.

The leak in the 34-inch diameter line shut down the plant responsible for processing 100,000 barrels of oil per day, more than 10 percent of the daily flow through the trans-Alaska pipeline.

Lynda Giguere, spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said 40-member crews were working round the clock in two 12-hours shifts on the clean up.

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources approved construction of an ice pad for staging response equipment. Ice pads and ice roads form a protective layer and protect sensitive tundra from heavy equipment.

BP Exploration Alaska Inc. began construction of the ice pad this morning.

The spill in the western portion of the vast Prudhoe Bay field was discovered early Thursday morning by BP operators visually inspecting lines. The company shut down the processing plant, depressurized the line and blocked off both ends.

Natural and manmade snow berms contained the spill, according to the state conservation department.

Much of the spill is not visible. Hot oil under a leak melts snow but then hits frozen ground and spreads horizontally beneath snow.

Crews will clear snow from three to five acres of tundra to determine the extent of the spill, said BP spokesman Daren Beaudo.

The aboveground line runs from the Gathering Center 2 to Pump Station 1 of the trans-Alaska pipeline. A line from a second gathering center feeds into the pipe.

The leak was between the two gathering centers.

The line is 2 feet to 3 feet off the ground in most places, meaning much of it can be covered in snow.

Two vacuum trucks began collecting oil Thursday afternoon. The frozen ground was expected to make recovery of crude easier. Temperatures were predicted down to 20 below zero, and east winds to 20 mph sent wind chill as low as 50-below.

Oil seeped to the edge of a frozen lake and ice was expected to minimize the oil's effect.

Gathering centers separate oil from water and other materials that come out of the ground during drilling. Gathering Center 2 collects oil from 13 pads and more than 240 wells.

The leak was not detected by automated detection systems, which are geared to shut down pipelines during catastrophic failures.

Cleanup was delayed for hours Thursday after air monitors indicated dangerous fumes emanating from the crude.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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