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Recovery Crews Responding to Fuel Spill Near Wales School

The Wales School at sunset
The Wales School at sunset (Photo: Gabe Colombo, KNOM, 2017)

Crews in Wales continue to recover hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel spilled near the Kingikmiut School last week. 

The spill occurred during a transfer from a storage tank to a day tank when a valve was left open and the day tank overflowed — that’s according to a situation report released Wednesday from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC).

The report says 1,862 gallons of diesel spilled from the storage tank but it’s unknown how much of that went into the environment. 

A Bering Strait School District (BSSD) maintenance worker reportedly noticed the spill on Wednesday of last week. BSSD staff and local hires got to work at the site.

“They (BSSD) immediately started assessing and recovering,” said Laurie Silven, the ADEC Prevention and Response Unit Manager for Northwest Alaska. So far, ADEC reports that 253 gallons have been collected and stored onsite in drums. 

Silven said local teams have been able to make use of holes drilled from previous fuel clean-ups in order to both recover fuel and get an idea of the spill’s extent.

“They initially started by augering further out, towards the Bering Sea and towards the tundra area to see how far we still have spread and at least managed to find out that it [the fuel] had not spread the distance towards those threatened areas.”

-Laurei Silven, ADEC Prevention and Response Unit Manager for Northwest Alaska

The spill location is 150 yards from the Bering Sea and 15 yards from wetland tundra but so far, BSSD workers don’t think those areas have been directly impacted.

The U.S. Coast Guard is working to assist the response but faced inclement weather leaving Nome on Wednesday. Wind speeds in Wales reached an excess of 40 miles an hour over the weekend and temperatures averaged in the negative teens before windchill. Silven said that’s made the response a slow-going challenge.  

“That said, they still did recover product. And they have access to oil spill resources. The BSSD school district is being proactive in getting equipment there. And they’re getting what they need to do the work.”

At this time, Silven reports that the spill has not affected local water supply.

Image at top: The Wales School at sunset (Photo: Gabe Colombo, KNOM, 2017)

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We acknowledge that KNOM Radio Mission is located on the customary lands of Indigenous peoples. 

Based in the Bering Strait region, KNOM broadcasts throughout the homelands of the Iñupiaq, Siberian Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Yup’ik peoples.