The environmental cleanup industry is alive and well in Alaska and is likely to stay that way for a while, according to Larry Dietrick, head of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s spill prevention and response group."We’ve developed an infrastructure in private industry with the capacity to assess contamination and do cleanup very efficiently," Dietrick said."Our contractors are good across the range at work, from tank-yanking to dirt-burning, professional support services and analysis, and particularly the logistics support needed to work at remote sites in Alaska," he said.Dietrick estimates about $250 million a year is spent in the state on cleanup and environmental remediation, including $50 million to $60 million per year in Department of Defense cleanup projects at abandoned or active military sites.The petroleum industry is another big customer for environmental work, Dietrick said.BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. and Phillips Alaska Inc., the two major North Slope oil producers, are engaged in a long-term program of cleaning out closed reserve pits used to store drilling fluids from oil wells.The industry is making good progress on this, Dietrick said. About 450 old reserve pits have been cleaned out, leaving 150 left to be cleaned, he said.There are no figures available for what the companies are spending on this, but it is a substantial effort, Dietrick said.In addition, BP and Phillips have committed to spending an additional $10 million a year in environmental remediation of old drill sites, including "orphan" sites where no one has accepted responsibility, he said.That is part of the companies’ charter agreement with the state, reached during the acquisition of Atlantic Richfield Co. by BP, Dietrick said.There are currently 2,011 statewide sites with identified contamination deserving attention listed in the state’s database, according to Steve Bainbridge, a DEC environmental manager in charge of the state contaminated sites program. Cleanup has been completed at 927 other sites in the state. Cleanup also is under way at 292 locations.The state maintains a master list of all contaminated sites, including federal, state and private owners. Under federal law, the state has regulatory authority over all sites, although the respective landowners assume responsibility for cleanup, Bainbridge said.There are 178 more contaminated sites than the 3,052 listed last year, despite the completion of 816 cleanup projects last year, he said.The number of sites is growing mainly because landowners are more diligent in checking for contamination from old fuel tanks or industrial activity when property is sold or transferred, or when new construction is done, Bainbridge said.With increased federal funding for highway and defense projects, overall construction activity is up throughout Alaska, and with new excavation more soils with contamination are uncovered.Three examples in the last year, involving state projects which increased the total on the contaminated site list, include the new Fairbanks courthouse, the Anchorage jail and the new construction at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, he said.All of these involved pollution discovered when soils were excavated, Bainbridge said.Although much of the pollution is oil spilled from leaking tanks, chlorine-based solvents from garages and shops where work on machines and engines is done is another common source, Bainbridge said.Pollution from oil is easier to clean up because oil tends to remain at the top of any groundwater and spread laterally. Chlorine-based solvents tend to sink deeper in the soil, he said.Dietrick said 52 percent of the cleanups last year were on federal lands where federal agencies took responsibility, 31 percent were on private or privately-leased lands where companies were responsible, 8 percent were on state lands, 5 percent were on municipal land and 2 percent were on Native lands.The remaining 2 percent were sites where no responsible party could be identified, he said.For the unclaimed sites, Alaska has a source of funds for cleanup, the so-called "470" fund managed by the DEC, Dietrick said.North Slope oil and gas producers pay five cents per barrel to the state in a surtax on oil moved through the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.Two of the five cents goes into a contingency fund for a major oil spill cleanup and stops being collected when the fund reaches $50 million.The remaining three cents per barrel, now totaling about $9 million per year, is paid into the state spill "prevention" account.From that account, $4 million per year is used to pay state agency expenses for review of industry contingency plans and other costs, with the remaining $5 million available for cleanup of contamination on state lands and sites where no responsibility for the spill can be determined, Dietrick said.A number of other states have similar surcharges on oil to support cleanup, Dietrick said."Our normal role is to provide oversight on cleanup projects, no matter who the landowner is. But where there is no responsible party, we step in to manage the cleanup," he said.The military has been very aggressive in their cleanup work, much of which is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The state’s congressional delegation has also been effective in securing steady funding for the military and Corps cleanups, Dietrick said.An important development in recent years, Bainbridge said, is that DEC is allowing more risk-based cleanup plans, where the risk to human health and damage to the environment is considered when DEC approves how much of the contaminants must be removed.This is an alternative to the traditional approach of relying on numeric standards, set in regulation, for the amount of pollution that can be safely left in the ground."This gives us the flexibility, in cases where people are not drinking the water, for example, to allow a responsible party to leave some contamination in the ground," Bainbridge said.This is part of a national trend and is done in several states, and is allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Bainbridge said.Dietrick said businesses have become more sensitive to contamination issues and liability in real estate transactions, he said, and the state of Alaska has developed new procedures to prevent contamination disputes from holding up property transfers. In some cases, the property owner can not afford the cleanup.To help these owners, DEC has developed a "Prospective Purchasers Agreement" where the buyer and seller can negotiate an agreement to share liability, he said.One real success story in Alaska has been the repair and replacement of old leaking underground storage tanks, Dietrick said.The Environmental Protection Agency established regulations in 1988 requiring fuel tanks to meet new, higher standards by 1998. This meant that many older underground tanks in Alaska had to be repaired or replaced, he said.The state Legislature established a grant program in 1991 to help small businesses deal with the costs of repair and replacement, and appropriated $38.9 million for the grants over the following 10 years. Most of the grants were small, typically $10,000, and were given to small "mom-and-pop" businesses, Dietrick said.Last year, the program was terminated, replaced by a revolving-loan program that will be self-supporting.But the important thing, Dietrick said, is that 6,000 of the 7,000 old underground fuel tanks that were in the state in 1988, many of them leaking, have been repaired or replaced.About 1,000 older tanks still need to be replaced, Dietrick said.