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Diesel Fuel Spills in Gambell After Pipeline Fails

A failed pipeline in Gambell caused an estimated 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel to spill in late June. The spill was only discovered last week.

That’s according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

Tom DeRuyter is the department’s state on-scene coordinator. He says on June 25, fuel was being delivered through a four-inch pipeline, leading from the barge landing to the Bering Strait School District (BSSD) and Gambell Native Store tank farms.

“The fuel went through this underground piping, and it obviously was compromised. A subsequent pressure test on the line indicated that it would not hold pressure. And we’re certain that that was the source of the release.”

According to the DEC situation report, BSSD received the full amount of fuel it ordered. DeRuyter says the native store’s records show it didn’t. That’s where the estimate of 2,325 to 2,698 gallons of spilled fuel comes from.

But the problem went unnoticed until last week, when people in the community reported smelling diesel and seeing a sheen in a small pond.

DeRuyter says U.S. Coast Guard and DEC responders arrived last Friday, July 13, to investigate. He says they’re still not sure of the full extent of the spill.

“There’s been no reports of oil getting out into the Bering Sea. Those are the only areas where oil has been noted.”

He says the water supply has not been compromised, since Gambell doesn’t get its water from ground wells.

According to DeRuyter, the valves on both ends of the pipeline have been closed. Next steps include excavating the pipeline to figure out where exactly it broke, repairing it, and then cleaning up the oil. But first, they have to find digging equipment.

“Coming up with equipment out in Gambell is a very difficult thing. We’re checking all the entities that we know right now to see if they’ve got equipment, is it operational, do we have an operator, and how soon we can use it if they allow us to.”

And as for what the cost of the spill might end up being?

“No idea. We’re just getting into this response.”

DeRuyter says Coast Guard and DEC investigation and clean-up efforts will be ongoing.

This is the second fuel spill this year on St. Lawrence Island, after 22,000 gallons spilled in Savoonga in March.

Image at top: A road in Gambell (photo: KNOM archive).