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Cleanup continues at fatal crash site

Posted: January 30, 2014 - 10:11am

Cleanup of drilling cuttings, hydraulic fluids and other potentially hazardous waste continues at the site of a truck crash last week near Mile 9.5 East End Road that killed a  Soldotna truck driver hauling drilling cuttings. Trevor Cunningham, 29, was ejected from his truck in the crash on Jan. 22, and died of his injuries after being taken to South Peninsula Hospital by Kachemak Emergency Services medics. Cunningham was driving for AIMM Technologies, a Texas City, Texas, oil services company with a branch in Kenai.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Cunningham family,” AIMM said in a press release.

Cunningham had been heading inbound to Homer when the truck overturned about 10:25 a.m. Jan. 22, separating the tank from the frame. Some drilling mud with cuttings spilled from the tank. KES crews set up booms as a precaution. Troopers notified the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

The crash happened on East End Road near Walters Street by a downhill curve between Kilcher Road and Greer Road. Temperatures were in the 40s, with no ice on the road, said trooper spokesperson Elizabeth Ipsen. She said it appeared Cunningham had not been properly wearing his seatbelt. No witnesses saw the crash and no other vehicles were involved. 

Photographs by troopers show tire tracks leading off the road. The truck, cab and tanks rolled onto the south side of the east bound side of the road, with the wreckage winding up near several private homes.

Cunningham was hauling drilling mud and cuttings from Buccaneer Energy’s West Eagle site off East End Road and Basargin Road about 20 miles east of Homer. AIMM is a subcontractor of Buccaneer. Buccaneer had just started drilling the well, and it had not yet reached hydrocarbons, said Steve Russell, the Department of Environmental Conservation on-scene coordinator based out of Soldotna. The contents in the tank were mostly clay drilling mud, water and cuttings from the well.

However, because about 50 gallons of hydraulic fluid spilled, as well as smaller amounts of diesel fuel, AIMM and another Buccaneer subcontractor, Emerald Alaska, treated the mud and other fluids as hazardous waste. The truck had a vacuum pump on it, which is why there was hydraulic fluid. AIMM will haul the waste to Emerald’s disposal facility in Nikiski.

Small amounts of fluid were thrown along the 100 yard path of the wreck, said Jade Gamble, a DEC program specialist. She said didn’t think there were significant amounts spilled, but AIMM and Emerald were monitoring the site and picking up sheens as the soil warmed with recent good weather.

“I believe the correct steps were taken to clean it up,” said James Charo, an AIMM spokesperson from Texas City. “I believe they’ve even gone beyond what we consider the norm there.”

Gamble said AIMM and Emerald also were working with the homeowners to make sure their concerns are met. They also will continue to monitor the site. Some topsoil was removed and will be replaced, Charo said.

Bob Shavelson, the Cook Inletkeeper and a spokesperson for Cook Inletkeeper, a Homer environmental watchdog organization, said the crash raises questions about Buccaneer Energy and a recent upsurge in oil and gas exploration on the lower Kenai Peninsula. East End Road neighbors also had criticized an increase in truck traffic on East End Road, particularly the steeper, narrower parts beyond Fritz Creek.

“It kind of paints this picture, a corporate profile of indifference and carelessness — we’ve seen that from Buccaneer since day 1,” Shavelson said. “Imagine a family of kids driving up the other way. I think we need to have a broader discussion of what it means ‘Homer is open for business.’”

The cause of the crash remains under investigation by the Bureau of Highway Patrol. As is routine in fatal crashes, a blood draw was done of Cunningham. Toxicology results could take a month or longer. An autopsy also was done of Cunningham. Troopers said he had a current commercial driver’s license. Since the crash is under investigation, Charo declined comment on the crash itself.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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