An explosion on the trans-Alaska pipeline that destroyed the main turbine at Pump Station No. 8 and killed one worker Friday may delay movement of the oil by less than a week, a state official said today.
Chuck Champion, pipeline surveillance officer of the state, said Alyeka Pipeline Service Co. could begin shipping the oil again quickly if it could bypass the damaged pump station.
Alyeska officials, whose crews were clearing the twisted, blackened rubble from the pump station today, gave no estimate of when the damage, which they said exceeded $5 million, would be repaired.
The explosion, which ripped through the pump station about 49 miles south of here at 8:45 p.m. (EDT) Friday, apparently was caused when a suction valve opened, allowing highly volatile crude oil to gush out over an operating 13,500-horsepower turbine. One person in the room, identified as Charles D. Lindsey, 39, of Fairbanks, was killed in the accompanying fire. Five persons were hospitalized, but all were reported in good condition.
Oil was flowing through the pipeline at the rate of 300,000 barrels a day at the time of the explosion.
Efforts to stop the flow of oil through the burning pump statoon were delayed because wires connecting the valves to automatic shutoff systems in the port of Valdez had been unhooked during repair work earlier in the week and had not been reconnected.
Workers had to manually shut the flow off at a valve north of Pump Station No. 8, according to Lou Cancelmi, an Alyesica spokesman. He said the flow was shut off four minutes after the explosion.
It was the second major mishap in less than a week at Pump Station No. 8 to force the shutting down of the pipeline. The system was shut down for 64 hours beginning on Monday when liquid nitrogen cracked the pipe section ahead of the oil. Alyeska spokesmen said the two incidents were not related.
After an inspection team toured the pump station complex - at milepost 488 - today, Alyeska said it appeared that facilities crucial to moving the oil past, the damaged pump station - including the pipeline itself - were not damaged.
Alyeska has 12 pump stations along the 800-mile route, each equipped with one or more pumps that develop 13,500 horscpower. The pumps, which are used to push the oil through the line, can compensate for one broken station, Alyeska officials said.
[United Press International, however, reported from Washington, however, reported from Washington that David Jewell, a Department of Transportation spokesman, said, "We're not sure that we're going to let them bypass the pump station. Jewell said the final decision would be made by Transportation Secretary Brock Adams based on recommendations from his Office of Pipeline Safety. If the proposal is rejected, Jewell said, "the pipeline will be shut down."]
Jack Blue, a control-room worker at the pump station, said pressure in the line dropped minutes before the blast. He said the oil flow was stopped and a crew started to check a huge filter located in the line just ahead of the pumping units to see if it was clogged.
He said that, without warning, crude oil started flowing into the room, and, as workers rushed for safety, the oil or fumes ignited. A chemical fire-fighting system in the building was blown away.
"It was like a thousand pound bomb going off in your backyard," pipefitter foreman Bill Pender said.
He said the first explosion blew the roof off the main building, sending it 50 to 75 feet in the air. He said a second explosion, less than a minute later, blew out the building's sides. Burning oil flowed out through the building, across a road and into a ditch built to repair the earlier break. The oil also set fires in heavily forested areas surrounding the pump station.
About 75 people were working in the area when the explosion occurred, and Pender said that "it was a miracle more people weren't killed or hurt."
Black smoke was visible at Eielson Air Force Base, about 10 miles from the explosion.
One Eielson firefighter, Robert Pepin, said that when Air Force units arrived, Alyeska officials told them "to pull back and let it burn."
He said the pump house had already been destroyed and Alyeska officials were more concerned about the fire spreading to a small tank farm about 200 yards away.
"If the oil got there, it would have blown half of this mountain off," Pepin said.
Rebuilding the pump station could take four to six weeks, but John Ratterman, an Alyeska spokesman, said: "The preliminary thinking is that we can run oil through the station without using the pumps or turbines. We do not think, on a preliminary basis, that there will be a long down time."