A leak in an Alaskan pipeline operated by BP (British Petroleum) has resulted in one of the worst oil spills to afflict the region since the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. News reports say more than 260,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into a remote area of tundra that is home to a variety of Alaskan wildlife.

State officials said the initial spill occurred March 2 from a 34-inch pipeline near Gathering Center 2 on the North Slope. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation said its cause was “a quarter-inch hole in the pipeline due to internal corrosion. The leak is from a hole discovered in the pipe within a buried culvert (caribou crossing).”

The agency’s report, dated March 20, identifies the party potentially responsible for the spill as British Petroleum Exploration Alaska.

The finding of internal corrosion is troubling for those who monitor the pipeline’s durability. The main pipeline, which stretches from Prudhoe Bay in the North Slope to Valdez in Prince William Sound, will be 30 years old next year.

“I think many of us are seriously concerned about the aging and the deterioration of the pipeline and the facilities,” John Devens, executive director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, told The Associated Press.

Natalie Brandon, policy director for the Alaska Wilderness League, said, “This historic oil spill is a catastrophe for the environment. Tone-deaf politicians in Congress should now stop trying to push for more drilling through sneaky maneuvers.” In her statement, which was reported by the Independent (UK) newspaper, Brandon added, “The fact that the oil spill occurred in a caribou crossing area in Prudhoe Bay is a painful reminder of the reality of unchecked oil and gas development across Alaska’s North Slope.”

Oil companies like BP, which have made enormous profits in recent years, have been pushing to gain exploration and drilling rights in protected areas like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Bush administration has aggressively championed their cause, but so far Congress has generally resisted such plans. The Arctic Refuge is, like the site of the present spill, located on the North Slope.

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