Northern Alaska pipeline leak may rank as one of region’s largest

Cleanup crews have been working in subzero temperatures to sop up crude oil and soiled snow near northern Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay after what looks to be one of the largest spills ever in the region. The source of the crud(e) was discovered last Thursday by a BP oil worker: a quarter-inch rupture in the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, apparently caused by corrosion, 650-odd miles north of Anchorage. While the oil industry maintains it has an aggressive program for monitoring such leaks, this spill is one in a long series of breaches of the aging pipeline since at least 2001. These come in the wake of a 1999 attempt by six pipeline employees to blow the whistle on neglected maintenance. Enviros say this latest leak refutes industry claims that “gentle drilling” practices can keep Alaska’s wilderness — including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — safe from being soaked in petroleum.