ANCHORAGE — Federal prosecutors on Friday announced the arrest of a man suspected of bombing the trans-Alaska pipeline in 1978, less than a year after it began moving crude oil 800 miles from the Prudhoe Bay to Valdez.
Phillip Martin Olson, 61, of Fairbanks, was indicted on charges of making false statements to the FBI regarding the bombing.
He was arrested Friday morning in Fairbanks and held pending a detention hearing Thursday.
Olson acknowledged carrying out the bombing and falsely implicated another person by saying the other person assisted him, U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler said in the announcement.
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Olson was jailed at Fairbanks Correctional Center. Directory assistance did not list a telephone number for him.
More than 35 years after the incident north of Fairbanks, Olson cannot be charged with the actual bombing, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Bottini. “The statute of limitations has expired on any statutes that were in effect or have been enacted since then,” he said.
The case has long been a mystery to Alaskans.
No one previously had been charged.
A pilot flying over the pipeline on Feb. 15, 1978, spotted crude oil spurting from it.
By the time workers had shut down the flow, about 12,000 to 14,000 barrels of crude oil, or up 588,000 gallons, had hit the ground.
Investigators determined that the breach was caused by a bomb placed on the 48-inch pipe.
According to the indictment, the FBI in November was informed that Olson had made statements admitting he carried out the bombing.
That spurred an investigation by the agency and Alaska State Troopers, and interviews with Olson and others. Prosecutors said that on three occasions, Olson acknowledged carrying out the bombing but said another person also took part. Prosecutors did not say who Olson implicated.
A conviction for making false statements could result in a prison sentence of up to five years and fine of up to $350,000, Bottini said.
The bombing was not the last time the pipeline was breached.
Daniel Lewis was convicted of oil pollution, criminal mischief and other charges for firing a powerful hunting rifle into the pipeline on Oct. 4, 2001, near Livengood. The hole allowed 285,000 gallons of oil to leak, and cleanup costs exceeded $13 million.
In June 2003, Lewis was sentenced to 16 years in prison.