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Diesel Fuel Spills at Savoonga Power Plant, Tundra and Sea Unaffected So Far

Savoonga, Alaska, in winter.
Savoonga, Alaska (late January 2015). Photo: KNOM file.

Operators at the Savoonga Power Plant are cleaning up between 15 and 20 thousand gallons of diesel fuel after a temporary fix on a fuel line failed over the weekend.

On Saturday, Alaska Village Electric Cooperative workers in Savoonga noticed diesel fuel from one of their bulk oil storage tanks overflowing into the secondary containment area — or the area that collects hazardous materials to prevent contamination.

Sarah Moore is an Environmental Program Manager with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC). She says most of the spill was caught by the containment and that the spill happened after a temporary valve was left open.

“They routinely transfer fuel between a bulk fuel tank to a day tank and they got air in that line between the two tanks, which was preventing fuel transfers. So they had put in a temporary fix to bleed that air out of the fuel line. It appears that the valve associated with that temporary fix is what opened at some point.”

– Sarah Moore

ADEC shared in their situation report Tuesday that approximately 2,800 gallons of fuel have been recovered so far. That recovery is challenging because the plant is covered by snow explains Moore.   

“They have snowdrifts at 8-18 feet [all] throughout and around the facility. So they’re working really hard to slowly and carefully remove the clean snow so that they can get down and check whether or not snow at the base of the secondary containment on the outside… is contaminated.”

A small amount may have spilled from the secondary containment area, but that amount has not yet been determined. Though the site is near the wetland tundra and Bering Sea, those areas are reportedly unaffected.

Image at Top: In Savoonga, drifting snow makes clean-up at the power plant difficult. Savoonga, Alaska. KNOM File Photo, 2015.

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