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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 March 2006, 10:00 GMT
Alaska hit by 'massive' oil spill
An oil spill next to a transit line in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska
The spill covers two acres of the snow-covered tundra
An oil spill discovered at Prudhoe Bay field is the largest ever on Alaska's North Slope region, US officials say.

They estimate that up to 267,000 gallons (one million litres) of crude leaked from a corroded transit pipeline at the state's northern tip.

The spill was detected on 2 March and plugged. Local environmentalists have described it as "a catastrophe".

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez shipping disaster spilled 11m gallons (42m litres) of oil onto the Alaskan coast.

'Painful reminder'

"I can confirm it's the largest spill of crude oil on the North Slope that we have record of," Linda Giguere, from Alaska's state department of environmental conservation, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

The estimate is based on a survey conducted several days ago at the site where the leak was discovered, officials say.

The spill covers about two acres (one hectare) of the snow-covered tundra in the sparsely populated region on Alaska's north coast, some 1,040km (650 miles) north of the state's biggest city, Anchorage.

The source of the spill was a hole caused by internal corrosion in the pipeline, officials say. It remains unclear when the leak started.

Environmentalists from Alaska Wilderness League said the spill was "a catastrophe for the environment".

They said it was "a painful reminder of the reality of unchecked oil and gas development across Alaska's North Slope".

They also urged lawmakers to shelve a Republican-led project to allow drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Supporters of drilling in Alaska say it offers an alternative source of energy to the Middle East and so would improve national security.

Opponents warn oil exploration would harm a pristine wilderness and endanger a key habitat for migratory birds, polar bears, caribou and other animals.

1989 disaster

Alaska's worst-ever oil spill happened on 24 March 1989.

Exxon Valdez spill
The 1989 spill devastated miles of Alaskan coastline and wildlife

The Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound, near Anchorage, contaminating around 1,300 miles (2,080km) of coastline.

Its captain, Joseph Hazelwood, admitted drinking vodka before boarding the vessel, but was subsequently acquitted of operating a ship while intoxicated.

The spill killed an estimated 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 seals, 250 bald eagles, up to 22 Orca or killer whales, and an unknown number of salmon and herring.

In 2004, a federal judge in Alaska ordered Exxon to pay $6.75bn (3.9bn) in damages and interest in relation to the spill.

Exxon hit with $6.75bn spill bill
29 Jan 04 |  Business
Exxon Valdez spill still a danger
19 Dec 03 |  Americas
Exxon Valdez damages reduced
07 Dec 02 |  Americas
Court upholds Exxon damages
02 Oct 00 |  Americas
Exxon Valdez anniversary
25 Mar 99 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Exxon Valdez: Ten years on
23 Mar 99 |  Americas

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