- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - A Fairbanks man who told federal investigators he blew a hole in the trans-Alaska pipeline in 1978 and was assisted by an accomplice has been acquitted of lying to the FBI.

A Fairbanks jury on Thursday found Phillip Martin Olson, 62, not guilty of three counts of lying to federal investigators, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (https://bit.ly/1pkaMeT) reported.

Prosecutors did not have the option of charging him with sabotage of the 800-mile line because the statute of limitations had run out.

Instead, they charged him with lying to the FBI, which they said cost the agency time and money investigating the claims.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Bottini said by email that he was surprised by the verdict. He believed the evidence was strong, Bottini said, but he respected the jurors’ decision.

Questions about who was responsible for the explosion and leak have lingered since the incident occurred less than a year after the pipeline began moving oil 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, Alaska. No one was ever charged.

A pilot on Feb. 15, 1978, spotted crude oil spurting from the pipeline. About 12,000 to 14,000 barrels, or up to 588,000 gallons of crude, hit the ground by the time workers sealed the hole the next morning.

Investigators determined that a bomb had been placed inside the insulating layer of the 48-inch pipe.

An informant told the FBI in November that Olson had bragged about setting off the explosion. Agents interviewed Olson in November and January, and he implicated another man, identified in charging documents as C.D., as an accomplice.

The other man denied involvement. Olson was charged in May with lying.

The pipeline also was breached in 2001. Daniel Lewis was convicted of oil pollution, criminal mischief and other charges for firing a hunting rifle into the pipeline on Oct. 4, 2001. The hole allowed 285,000 gallons of oil to leak near Livengood. Cleanup costs exceeded $13 million.

Lewis was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com

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