Thousands of gallons of gasoline spilled into a harbor in southern Alaska on Saturday after a pump used to funnel fuel into boats was accidentally severed, representatives from Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation confirmed Monday.
Initial reports indicated that 7,000 gallons of gasoline had leaked, but Sarah Moore, the DEC coordinator for pollution incident response in Southern Alaska, told ThinkProgress on Monday that more recent estimates from the village of Kake are suggesting a spill of about 5,500 gallons. Workers at the small harbor in Kake, a town with a population of about 500, had discovered the incident Saturday morning, Moore said, after noticing a strong odor of gasoline.
The spill is especially unwelcome for those in the rural village, whose residents rely on fish and subsistence to get by, according to a report in the Alaska Dispatch.
“It’s certainly a significant volume,” Moore said of the size of the spill, adding that the DEC has not yet received any reports of oiled wildlife. “There have been some concerns raised about clam and geoduck beds near the area, so i’m working with the Environmental Heath division on that.”
The spill occurred after a hose running underneath the fuel dock — likened to a gas station for boats — was damaged, apparently due to changes in tide and wind overnight. The hose was connected to a 7,000-gallon gasoline tank onshore, causing gas to flow through the hose and into the water. Moore said the fact that the spill was of pure gasoline rather than oil would make cleanup a little more dangerous at first, but ultimately easier to accomplish.
“Gasoline spills are really very different from petroleum spills because of the flammable nature of gasoline, so our primary concern on Saturday was that the people were safe and that there wasn’t anything done to introduce a spark into the flammable environment,” she said.
Local firefighters used what Moore called a “vapor mist,” essentially spraying water on top of the gasoline, to clean up and drive fumes away from Kake. Emergency responders did not collect the spilled gas. Moore said the biggest priority for the DEP, rather, is keeping the gas fumes out of the air so they don’t blow into town with the wind, which would be an explosion hazard. Because gas is such a light product, 90 percent of it would evaporate within a 24 hour period so long as the spill was kept on the surface of the water, she said.
“Our number one concern is always safety of people, and then safety of the environment,” she said. “We want to make sure we don’t put anyone in danger to clean up a fuel spill.”
The U.S. Coast Guard released a statement later on Saturday saying the area was “secured” and that they would continue to “monitor and coordinate response” to the situation.
“The Coast Guard is providing oversight and coordination of the cleanup to ensure the mitigation of any potential environmental harm,” Senior Chief Petty Officer Chad Mountcastle, a Coast Guard Sector Juneau command center supervisor, said. “The coordination between the Coast Guard, city of Kake and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation resulted in faster dissipation of the spill for the safety of all residents.”
Moore said the DEC was working on putting together a comprehensive report of the situation which is scheduled to be released late Monday.