Aluminum air pipes

Running out of diesel fuel, North Slope sewer lines break

Lena Kakinya was washing the dishes at her home in Anaktuvuk Pass on a Tuesday afternoon when she saw sewage backing up in her bathtub. She spent an hour removing trash from her home and disinfecting surfaces.

“Now we have raw sewage outside my house where I dumped it,” she said.

The sewage pipes are protected from low temperatures by a heating system that runs on diesel. Throughout December and into January, several communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic scrambled to get diesel, as well as gas and fuel oil, essential for thawing pipes, heating homes and operate snowmobiles.

“We fought for diesel for our power station and our own homes as well,” Kakinya said on Wednesday. “Now our heaters for thawing frozen houses don’t have any.” People’s (snow) machines have been parked for a while now. No gasoline to hunt, no diesel to thaw.”

Meanwhile, in the Northwest Arctic, Ambler and Noatak experienced fuel shortages just after the holidays. Ambler residents, many of whom do not have firewood, are in a particularly precarious situation, said Carl Weisner, director of public services for the borough.

“It only takes one night for an unheated house to freeze, and the pipes start breaking and the water starts coming out,” Weisner said. “It spoils quickly.”

Fortunately, Amber received a DC-6 fuel plane last Wednesday, while Noatak expects its fuel to be delivered by Friday, Weisner said.

Causes of fuel shortages

Fuel is delivered to communities by air, with the help of contractor Everts Air Fuel. Karen Wing, director of IT services at Everts Air, who introduced herself as “the member of the Everts family”, said the company had had no disruption in fuel deliveries to its regular customers, although she “cannot speak for all the villages”. and the inhabitants.”

“We are currently supplying our customers and no one is about to run out of fuel,” Wing said. “We saw extreme weather conditions and we are doing our best there to pretend nothing has happened.”

Weather conditions hampered air service for many carriers, according to Jane Dale, director of the Alaska Air Carriers Association. Flights in western Alaska have slowed in some places and come to a complete halt in others, according to the association.

“Slowly but surely it is unfolding, but for weeks entire communities have not received regular service,” Dale said.

“With low visibility, high winds and low ceilings, daily flights were canceled to many locations, leaving mail, cargo and passenger service on hold,” said Dan Knesek, senior vice president of operations. at Grant Aviation, in a statement prepared at the end of December He added that some villages had not seen a plane for more than a week.

In the Northwest Arctic, flying conditions were also difficult.

“There was a big storm and then there was a big cold snap,” Weisner said. “(Everts Air Fuel employees) just got more requests than they had the capacity to handle. It happens once in a while, and then they catch up. occurs.”

North Slope Borough administrative manager Scott Szmyd said in early December that Everts Air Fuel had had mechanical problems with its planes.

Eva Onalik is an assistant manager at the Noatak Native Store who struggled to get fuel to Noatak throughout December. She said that when they called Everts, they “learned the planes were down or the pilots had COVID.”

Wing said she could not comment on the staffing situation and the health of Everts employees. Dale said she hadn’t heard that staffing issues had caused delays for carriers.

Delivery interruptions prevent communities from regularly receiving fuel, but they also have limited capacity to store it, Weisner said.

“When you discover that you are in a queue to receive fuel with other communities during a cold spell, it does not take long for this situation to cause delays in delivery,” he said. declared.

Repetitive challenges

When diesel deliveries are interrupted, some communities use the services of small air-fuel transporters, but alternatives may be more expensive or less accessible.

Noatak Native Store used Alaska Air Fuel in December for fuel oil delivery, Onalik said, but with the new carrier the price has gone from $8.99 to $12.99 per gallon, which is a high price for the residents.

An alternative that residents of Noatak and Kivalina have when fuel is scarce or expensive in the community, is to purchase fuel from Teck Resources Limited at a more affordable price. However, residents require a snowmobile to pick it up at the Red Dog Mine haul road.

“Not everyone in Noatak can afford to go 50 miles with 2 x 55 gallon drums on a sled,” Janet Mitchell said. “So they have to pay $12.99 or collect logs for their woodstoves.”

While fuel delivery disruptions are not uncommon, for Noatak this year has been different. Onalik said most of the time when the community has shortages they have a reserve with a different type of fuel, but this year for the first time they ran out of gas and fuel oil.

In North Slope communities, not only are fuel deliveries a recurring problem, but also the consequences they have for the water and sewer system.

At Kakinya’s house in Anaktuvuk Pass, trash backed up in his bathtub on Tuesday, as well as about a month ago.

“Usually I don’t get mad, but it’s getting old,” she said. “A little scared for my granddaughter who lives in my house.”