Three-thousand gallons of diesel fuel have spilled on Bethel’s Yuut Elitnaurviat campus, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta’s adult workforce development center. A contractor is working to mop up the fuel before it sinks deeper into the tundra or reaches a waterway.
Seven responders are on site. They’re laying absorbent pads and pumping fuel into containers. Each works with Alaska Chadux Corporation. It’s the company that Yuut Elitnaurviat contacted immediately after discovering the spill.
“Right now we’re just in an active recovery, trying to clean up as much as we can, as much as we can see,” said Matt Melton, Alaska Chadux General Manager. The responders arrived only hours after the spill was discovered Tuesday morning and have been working on site since.
“There was a spill. It was the result of a human error,” wrote Yuut Elitnaurviat’s Director of Operations Tiffany Tony in an email to KYUK.
That error was that no one turned off a pump as it was moving fuel from a 4,000 gallon feeder tank to a smaller day tank. A power outage in December had fried the circuit board that would have automatically shut off the flow, so a worker was manually transferring the fuel and accidentally left the pump running. It overflowed sometime between 5 p.m. Monday and 8 a.m. Tuesday.
The land is helping to contain the fuel.
“The spill happened in a natural depression, so just the area is keeping it from spreading,” said Lisa Krebs-Barsis with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. “The fact that the ground is frozen is really beneficial in this circumstance.”
Krebs-Barsis says that some fuel will evaporate, and that at least 400 gallons of water and diesel have been pumped from the site. How much fuel is recovered overall will be calculated later. For now, responders are continuing to clean up, and an incinerator is arriving to safely destroy the absorbent fuel pads and response protective gear.
“The wind is blowing fumes away from the buildings,” emailed Tony with Yuut Elitnaurviat. “The surface spill should be cleaned up within the next couple days, and then we will need to do dirt work to finish the clean up. We are making every effort to get it all resolved as quickly as possible and get it all done while the ground is frozen.”
The state sees less than a dozen fuel spills this size a year.