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Alaska oil rig's lifeboats may have leaked fuel, Coast Guard says

January 09, 2013|By Kim Murphy
  • This map shows important areas for hundreds of thousands of birds near the Kulluk grounding area.
This map shows important areas for hundreds of thousands of birds near the… (National Audubon Society )

Lifeboats from an oil rig that was temporarily grounded on a small island in southern Alaska may have leaked as much as 272 gallons of diesel fuel into pristine waters along the shoreline, but that cannot be determined until a full inspection is completed, U.S. Coast Guard officials said.

A preliminary assessment of four survival boats and one rescue boat at Sitkalidak Island, near Kodiak Island, where the Kulluk rig became stuck along the rocky shore, has revealed that some fuel tanks on the smaller boats were damaged, incident commanders said in a statement late Wednesday.

Each of the survival boats, which were left behind when the Kulluk was towed away from the beach to safety this week, contained a 68-gallon fuel tank. Incident response officials said they were informed that of those, one appeared to be intact, two had been damaged, and one was inaccessible and could not be examined.

“As such, approximately up to 272 gallons of diesel fuel may have been released from the tanks,” the response team said in the statement.

Patty Richards, a spokeswoman for the team headed by the Coast Guard and Shell Alaska, said the estimate was based not on actual leakage, but on the theoretical possibility that all four tanks could have leaked. 

“We need to examine the tanks fully. We’re waiting for the weather and some other issues, and after that we’ll have more clarity. In the meantime,  we wanted to be fully transparent about the maximum amount that could have been released,” Richards told the Los Angeles Times.

The response team said that if any fluids had been released on the shoreline, the damage would be mitigated.

The National Audubon Society and other environmental groups have expressed concern about the possibility of fuel spills. Sitkalidak Island lies in a globally significant area where up to 180,000 seabirds nest and more than 100,000 black scoters, white-winged scoters, harlequin ducks, king eiders and red-necked grebes overwinter, the Aububon group said in their overview.

A map prepared by the organization, shown above, displays important bird habitats near both locations. The group Oceana prepared a map documenting other wildlife resources in the area, including habitat for Steller sea lions and harbor seals.

Kiliuda Bay on Kodiak Island, to which the Kulluk was towed for safe harbor, is within the same important bird area, the society said.

Coast Guard officials have said they have seen no evidence of a sheen on the water or any other suggestion of a fuel spill during several overflights of the area.

Remotely operated underwater vehicles have been inspecting the hull of the Kulluk. So far, they have seen no evidence of leaks.

kim.murphy@latimes.com 

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