15,000 Gallon Oil Spill Threatens River and Drinking Water in Native Alaskan Village
The spill occurred during a routine fuel delivery to the Northwest Arctic village of Shungnak. The fuel spilled around 12:30 p.m. June 20, but was not discovered by the villagers until 1:06 p.m. They reported it to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) immediately thereafter, The Arctic Sounder reported.
"A response crew from Shungnak responded to the spill immediately, removing the spilled heating oil using sorbent material and also by pumping it into containers," ADEC said in a situation report.
There have been no injuries reported and the oil spill has not harmed any wildlife so far. However, there are concerns that it could spread to sensitive areas.
"The extent of contamination has been reported by the incident commander to be approximately 160 feet from the Kobuk River and approximately 295 feet from the Shungnak drinking water source," ADEC said.
The spill occurred when fuel intended for the Shungnak Native Store was delivered to the school instead, KTUU reported. This caused fuel tank #1 to overflow. The fuel was being transferred from a barge on the Kobuk River. All transfers have now been stopped.
The cleanup efforts have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, Alaska Public Radio reported. Because of travel restrictions, officials from ADEC and the Environmental Protection Agency cannot travel to the spill site. Instead, both agencies are in contact with local responders.
"ADEC will continue to monitor the response actions and review plans being developed to clean up contaminated soils from the area and prevent heating oil migration to nearby resources," ADEC said, according to The Arctic Sounder.
The Kobuk River flows for 380 miles from the Endicott Mountains to Kotzebue Sound, according to the National Park Service. It is one of the only two spawning grounds for the Kobuk/Selawik population of sheefish and also an important habitat for grayling, arctic char, whitefish, chum salmon and lake trout. It is also a subsistence fishing site for Native Alaskan communities and the wintering grounds for the Western Arctic caribou herd.
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Spring is coming. And soon, tree swallows will start building nests. But as the climate changes, the birds are nesting earlier in the spring.
"It's getting warmer overall. They're thinking, OK, it's a good time to breed, to lay my eggs," says Lily Twining of the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Germany.
She says that despite recent warming, late-season cold snaps remain common. Those cold snaps can harm newborn chicks.
Hatchlings cannot regulate their body temperature, so they are vulnerable to hypothermia. And the insects they eat stop flying in cold weather, potentially leaving the chicks to starve.
"These chicks are growing very, very fast," Twining says. "They have very high energy demands, so… if they don't get a lot of that good high-quality food during this pretty specific time… that's when these cold weather events seem to be most devastating."
For example, data from Ithaca, New York, shows that a single cold snap in 2016 killed more than 70% of baby tree swallows.
"And there have been more and more of these severe cold weather die-off events for these tree swallows as they've been breeding earlier and earlier over the past 40 or so years," Twining says.
So for these songbirds, earlier springs can come with devastating consequences.
Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy / ChavoBart Digital Media
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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