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Alaska oil transfers resume after temporary security shutdown

An Alaska State Trooper stands guard at the Valdez oil terminal Monday.
An Alaska State Trooper stands guard at the Valdez oil terminal Monday.

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Coast Guard
United States

(CNN) -- The transfer of oil onto tankers at Alaska's port of Valdez resumed Thursday after a temporary shutdown which the U.S. Coast Guard attributed to the nation's elevated threat level, a spokesman told CNN.

Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Carter of the Coast Guard said oil transfers resumed around noon local time (4 p.m. ET). He would not elaborate on the closure or why it was lifted.

The oil-transfer operations were halted Wednesday, according to USCG Petty Officer David Foucault, in Juneau, Alaska.

The road to the pipeline terminal has been closed to local traffic since Tuesday when the Coast Guard announced the transfers would be stopped.

The port of Valdez serves as the port of entry and the southern terminal for the trans-Alaska pipeline from Prudhoe Bay.

A written statement released by the Coast Guard described the closure decision as "a further example of prudent maritime security measures.

"Homeland Security officials, the U.S. Coast Guard, state and local authorities and [maritime officials] ... will continue to assess the security situation of the ports as appropriate," the statement said.

The United States remains at Code Orange -- the second-highest level on the five-tiered terrorist warning scale.

Valdez is located on Prince William Sound, about 200 miles east of Anchorage.

The northern slope produces about 20 percent of the United States' crude oil, but accounts for only about 11 percent of the country's oil consumption.

Valdez is the northernmost ice-free port in North America, according to Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, which runs the trans-Alaska pipeline.

Security increase 'pretty obvious'

Residents of Valdez said the increase in security in the area over the past two days was remarkable.

Stan Stephens, a long-time resident of Valdez, said it's "been pretty obvious to everybody."

Stephens operates a charter tour boat and is also on the board of directors of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council, a citizens' watchdog group established after the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989.

He said there have been numerous military jets and helicopters along with an influx of FBI, Coast Guard, and military personnel in the remote town of 4,000 residents.

"It's raised the excitement level in town," he added.

John Devens, who was mayor of Valdez in 1989, said possibly several hundred security personnel have arrived in the past few days.

Devens is executive director of the council, which he said was told by the Coast Guard that "it had come down on good authority" that there was a "credible threat" to the oil facilities in town, but Devens said they were not told the nature of that threat.

Devens said the airspace over the pipeline terminal has been restricted since terrorists attacked New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. Two days ago, he said, a private pilot strayed into this "no-fly zone" and was escorted out by two military aircraft.

"He got a pretty good tongue-lashing when he landed," Devens added.

CNN producer Chuck Afflerbach contributed to this report

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