The Haines-Fairbanks Pipeline that was built by the Army in the 1950s polluted Alaska land through fuel spills and leaks. The Army is now working to assess the contamination so that it can be cleaned up for good. The former Haines fuel terminal and tank farm on Lutak Road was the subject of intensive testing this year. Army contractors presented initial findings about the contamination at a restoration advisory board meeting Friday.
The contamination investigation at the fuel terminal was done by North Wind Inc. Arden Bailey led that work. He said what’s exciting about this is it’s aimed at a final solution.
“Yeah we found contamination out there,” Bailey said. “But this is the end of the investigation period for the tank farm. And we’re gonna move on to how to clean it up. So [the Army Corps of Engineers] came to us and said ‘find every dead body. Find every place there’s contamination that you can.’ And we did.”
They found a lot of potential contamination throughout the fuel terminal and tank farm area. North Wind knows some preliminary information about what kind of contamination it is, but most of their data right now has to do with location.
“This is our part of the effort,” Bailey said. “And that’s to find, document and investigate every leak or every point of contaminated soil at the tank farm.”
Bailey says his crew drilled nearly 1,000 holes in the soil to look for contamination. They used ultraviolent optical screening tools, or UVOSTs. The UVOSTs look for fluorescence in the soil. Clean soil isn’t fluorescent. Soil contaminated with diesel is. Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation project manager Anne Marie Palmieri said the UVOST method of testing is much more extensive and reliable than older technologies.
“This gives you a much more accurate way of doing that evaluation,” Palmieri said. “So I think this technology would find the contamination more accurately than traditional soil boring.”
For each of those hundreds of holes tests with UVOST, Bailey has a chart that shows, foot by foot, how much fluorescence was found. One example taken near the main pump house had minimal fluorescence between zero and seven feet below ground, but once you got between eight and ten feet, the levels spike. For samples like that one…
“When I got that much fluorescence, that’s above regulatory levels,” Bailey said.
Once they find contamination, North Wind wants to determine whether the pollution got into the groundwater as well. They sampled 45 wells to see if contaminants were moving and where.
Overall, North Wind found that the pump house is a known contamination source. There was contamination surrounding all the tank areas and berms.
“If we look at where is the most contamination it’s probably some of these tank basins,” Bailey said. “We’ll be looking at that UVOST data and mapping the depth of the contamination.”
Bailey says the majority of the contamination appears to be between two and 12 feet deep. He says clay and silt in the soil have helped prevent the contaminants from seeping deeper underground.
In October, DEC’s Palmieri said one major question in the investigation is whether the contamination is petroleum or other more toxic materials, like lead. Bailey says almost all the contamination they’ve found is petroleum – gasoline and diesel-related materials. There is one exception, the drum storage area, which has some cleaning solvent contaminants.
North Wind’s remedial investigation isn’t finished yet. Once they are done, another contractor will put together a risk assessment where they outline what the threats are to human health and the environment. Then, the Army will come up with a plan to clean the contamination up and monitor the site in the long-term. Next spring, North Wind plans to present definitive data on the contaminants they found.
The tank farm isn’t the only pipeline location the Army is assessing for clean-up. There are three spots along the highway the Army Corps of Engineers investigated – at pipeline mileposts 17.7, 19.5 and 25.5. Beth Astley is an Army Corps project manager. She said pipeline milepost 19.5 did not have contamination that exceeded safety standards.
“So that site has been closed,” Astley said. “We’re not going to do anything else there because there’s no risk to human health or the environment.”
But at the other two sites, there is contamination. At pipeline milepost 17.7, the pipeline corroded and released fuel into the ground. Astley says they found contamination from a diesel spill that exceeded safety standards. There’s also contamination in the groundwater there. The Army Corps is working to determine whether it’s impacted the Chilkat River.
At milepost 25.5, the contamination is more contained. Astley says it’s likely due to a slow leak in a gate valve. She says the groundwater is also contaminated, but drinking wells in the area have not been contaminated. The Army Corps is going to keep sampling the groundwater in those pipeline areas to get more definitive data before cleaning up.
“We’re going to continue to sample this area just like milepost 17.7 and look at trends. And then we’ll come up with remedy for dealing with this site at that point,” Astley said.
When will the tank farm and other pipeline contamination sites get cleaned up? The timeline is unclear, and depends on many factors. The Army and its contractors say they are trying to make the process as thorough as possible so that when they finish, they’ll be finished for good.