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Cleanup Continues for Fuel Spills in Savoonga and Nome

A snowplow sits in in the snow in front of the Savoonga Native Store tank farm while responders work to clean up a diesel fuel spill.

An unknown volume of diesel fuel has spilled in Savoonga. That’s according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC), which has been dealing with more fuel spills than usual this spring.

The trouble started over a month ago at the Savoonga Native Store tank farm. According to ADEC, during the transfer of fuel from a large storage tank to a smaller tank, human error caused the release of 22,000 gallons of diesel heating fuel. At the time, it was believed the spill was contained and no fuel had escaped the sealed area.

But Tom DuRuyter, state on-scene coordinator for ADEC, says unfortunately that’s not the case.

“Fuel did get out of the secondary containment area. We don’t know exactly how it got out yet, and we don’t have a volume of how much fuel did get out.”

 One thing that is certain, says DeRuyter, is that this complicates what would have been a relatively simple cleanup:

“First of all, we need to get a relative idea of how much area has been impacted, recover any oil that can be recovered out in that area, and then, we’re going to have to look at springtime cleanup activities.”

That means figuring out how to recover the spilled fuel from the snow and earth — and then what to do with the contaminated soil.

An ADEC responder will return to Savoonga soon. But first, he’s checking in on a few spills in Nome. In the last few weeks, ADEC has received reports of two home heating oil releases and a leak in the fuel supply line to the State Office Building.

DeRuyter says he’s seeing more fuel spills this spring than in an average year, and he has an idea of why that might be: an extra snowy year.

That snow builds up on rooftops throughout the winter, and when it slips off in the spring, it can break fuel lines.

DeRuyter says he wants people to know that kind of spill is easily prevented:

“We work on these spills, a couple, 2-3 of them a year, and they’re always very, very difficult and expensive to get cleaned up, and the solution to it is relatively simple, and that’s to move your tank away from your roof line where the snow slides off.”

Cleanup is ongoing in Savoonga and Nome. ADEC is still determining the extent of contamination.

Image at top: Cleanup efforts at the Savoonga Native Store tank farm in March 2018. Photo: Zoe Grueskin, KNOM.

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