North Slope Accident Reveals Threat to Wildlife Refuge
As the Bush administration nears its cherished goal of drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an industrial spill in a North Slope oil field last week offers a glimpse of what's in store for the wilderness home of caribou, snow geese and grizzlies.
A pipe leak discovered last Saturday at the Kuparuk oil field, the slope's second largest after Prudhoe Bay, released an estimated 111,300 gallons of "produced water'' onto the frozen tundra. Produced water is water that has been separated from the mixture of crude oil and natural gas that comes out of oil wells.
It's a nasty accident, but there have been many nastier on the North Slope. In July 1989, nearly 39,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled. In March 1997, 758,000 gallons of diluted seawater were spilled. The latter doesn't sound particularly bad, but salt is every bit as devastating to delicate tundra plant life as crude oil.
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