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Pipeline Spills in Wildlife Refuge

The largest pipeline spill during the past five years was the 228,000 gallons of crude oil and toxic “produced water” spilled by Unocal in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in January 1999. The federal government does not regulate “gathering” lines (pipelines coming from wells) and wastewater pipelines in the rural oil and gas production fields in the refuge, which results in the high spill rates.

Oil Drilling in an Alaskan Wildlife Refuge Leaves a Toxic Legacy of Oil Spills and Pollution. Oil drilling in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska has resulted in hundreds of spills, fires and explosions and has contaminated massive amounts of soil and groundwater with oil and other toxic substances that are known to cause mutations and birth defects in wildlife. Scientists studying the area have uncovered frogs with crippling deformities. Yet, proponents of opening to oil drilling another Alaskan wildlife refuge, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, claim that drilling there would be "environmentally sensitive." The record on Kenai National Wildlife Refuge shows otherwise. (reference 86)

According to recent federal studies, oil and gas activities have resulted in more than 350 spills, explosions and fires within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, releasing more than 270,000 gallons of oil, produced water, and other contaminants into refuge habitats.

Oil and gas drilling on the wildlife refuge has contaminated more than 100,000 tons of soil with toxic chemicals. If that contaminated soil were placed in 20-pound bags, a row of those bags would stretch a line across the entire United States, from coast to coast, twice.

In some areas of the refuge, groundwater has been contaminated at levels 10 times the legal limit established by the Environmental Protection Agency. For example, groundwater in one area of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is heavily polluted with xylene, a toxin that causes delayed growth and development in unborn animals.

Wood frogs found in oil fields on the refuge have missing hind legs and feet, misshapen hind legs, clubfeet and missing eyes.

The extent of the damage is just beginning to be revealed. A comprehensive investigation is needed to uncover the full environmental cost of oil and gas drilling in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The Toxic Legacy of Oil Drilling in Alaska’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Originally established in 1941 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to protect the large population of moose on the Kenai Peninsula, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge provides habitat for 200 species of birds and wildlife, including Bald Eagles, Trumpeter Swans, brown and black bear, caribou, and wolves. In 1957, oil was discovered on the refuge, and it was opened to oil and gas drilling. Since then, considerable oil and gas-related development has occurred in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, resulting in numerous oil and hazardous material spills.

The industrialization of portions of this refuge has fragmented and degraded bird and wildlife habitats. Industrial oil development of the refuge has included:

Nearly 200 wells within three oil and gas fields that total 30 square miles; 46 miles of oil and gas feeder pipelines across refuge lands outside of designated oil and gas fields; A 3,500 foot airstrip; 44 miles of roads; More than 60 individual well pads; Two solid waste disposal sites; Two active gravel pits; and Support facilities including high pressure compression and power generating systems, powerline and pipeline rights-of-way, tank settings and flare stacks, scrubbers, dehydration units, separators, thermal pacs and retention ponds. Over the past 40 years, this oil and gas infrastructure within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has left a toxic legacy of oil spills and pollution. More than 270,000 gallons of oil, produced water and other contaminants have been released into the wildlife refuge as a result of the more than 350 spills, explosions and other contamination events caused by oil and gas activities. Groundwater in some areas of the wildlife refuge has been contaminated at levels 10 times the legal limit established by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Major Spills Within the Swanson River Oil Field on Kenai Refuge

In a formal Contaminants Assessment of the Kenai Refuge completed in 2001, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service documented major oil spills and other contamination events at the Swanson River Oil Field. Because of poor reporting and poor records, little is known about the first two decades of oil drilling on the refuge. Further, the Fish and Wildlife Service reported in 1999 that, "refuge personnel detected (contamination) events during routine fly-overs and on-the-ground inspections that were not reported in a timely manner, if at all." The spills documented are only a fraction of what actually occurred on the ground.

Spilled Oil and Other Contaminants Threaten Birds and Other Wildlife

Crude oil and other toxic contaminants spilled by oil companies in Kenai National Wildlife Refuge threaten birds and wildlife with both lethal and sub-lethal effects.

Crippling Frog Deformities Found in Oilfields Within the Kenai Refuge Warrant Further Investigation

In the summer of 2000, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service contaminants specialists and refuge biologists found an abnormally high number of deformed frogs in the Kenai Refuge. According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service draft report recently obtained through a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the number of abnormalities recorded was the largest number found in any of 43 wildlife refuges sampled nationwide. It also was the largest number of frog abnormalities ever reported in the State of Alaska.

Preliminary data suggest that within the refuge, higher frog deformity occurred within the oil field areas. Frogs found in oil fields on the wildlife refuge have shown deformities such as missing hind legs and feet, misshapen hind legs, clubfeet and missing eyes.

Sensitive to environmental changes and especially vulnerable to pollution, frogs and other amphibians like toads and salamanders have been declining worldwide for years, possibly serving as a warning about the spread of contaminants, disease and other problems.

Toxic chemicals spilled as a result of oil operations are a suspected cause of the frog deformities on Kenai Refuge. Toxic chemicals spilled in the wildlife refuge by oil companies include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), anti-freeze, solvents, diesel fuel, triethylene glycol, benzene, and xylene. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, PCBs are thought to cause mutations, cancers, birth defects, still births, and liver disease.

Because the oilfields on the Kenai Refuge have a long history of contamination, further investigation is necessary to determine the role of toxic contaminants, and by extension the role of oil and gas development, in causing the frog deformities.