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Sunday, 7 October, 2001, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
Alaska clean-up 'could take years'
Alaska oil leak
The pipeline has been shot at a number of times
An official of the company operating a trans-Alaskan pipeline which has leaked hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the wilderness since Thursday has said it could take years to clean up the pollution.

We anticipate it will take literally years to get the area free of contamination

Alyeska vice-president
Bill Howitt, vice-president of Alyeska Pipeline Service Company which operates the 800-mile pipeline, said: "We anticipate it will take literally years to get the area free of contamination."

Meanwhile, rescue crews installed a clamp over a bullet hole in the pipeline to stop the leak.

Daniel Carson Lewis - the man suspected of shooting the pipeline with a rifle - has been charged with criminal mischief, driving while drunk, weapons misconduct and assault.

With the temporary repair in place, workers turned their attention to a permanent fix and the massive job of cleaning up some two acres of trees, brush and tundra 75 miles north of Fairbanks.

Regulators said there was no evidence that any wildlife has been affected.

The suspect

Mr Carson-Lewis, 37, had been drinking before he allegedly shot the pipeline with a .338-calibre rifle on Thursday.

Alaska map
He is said to have fired four shots before the fifth penetrated the pipe.

He has been charged with criminal mischief, driving while drunk, weapons misconduct and assault.

Following the attacks last month on New York and Washington, security has been tightened along the pipeline, but police have said that the incident has no link to terrorism.

The oil was being vacuumed into trucks and transferred to storage tanks. By Saturday afternoon, nearly 80,000 gallons had been collected.

Governor Tony Knowles said much more should be done to protect the vital pipeline.

Pipeline officials said people have shot at the pipeline more than 50 times but never caused enough damage to produce a spill.

It is protected by a layer of galvanised steel and nearly four inches of insulation.

In 1978, about 670,000 gallons of oil spilled after a hole was blasted with explosives near Fairbanks. No one has ever been arrested or charged for the incident.

Pipeline shut

The pipeline, which carries more than 15% of America's domestic oil production, is more than 1,300 km (800 miles) long and runs from Prudhoe Bay in the Arctic to the Prince William Sound port of Valdez in the south.

Alaska oil leak
The oil sprayed over the surrounding forest
A helicopter spotted the leak close to the pipeline's midpoint, about 80 km (50 miles) north of Fairbanks.

The oil covered two acres (0.8 hectares) of ground in an area of tundra and spruce, pipeline operator Alyeska Pipeline Service Company said.

The pipeline carries about 1 million barrels of oil a day, but the pipe has now been shut down.

As part of the clean-up effort crews have dug ditches and deep holes to capture the oil, which was being transferred onto trucks.

"Our priority is that no oil migrates from the site to the Tolovana River a mile away," said Brad Hahn of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

See also:

02 Aug 01 | Americas
Head to head: Arctic oil drilling
02 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Ice and oil: The risks
09 May 01 | Americas
Clash over Arctic reserves
11 Apr 01 | Americas
Opposition grows to Alaska oil drill
12 Jul 99 | Americas
Alaska oil disaster 'imminent'
15 Nov 00 | Americas
Alaskans face the thaw
18 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Bush energy plan: An oilman's vision
01 May 01 | Business
Is there a US energy crisis?
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