Crude oil spill at Colerain Township preserve more than twice as large as officials first reported

'Who knows how long ago it started?'

COLERAIN TOWNSHIP—Estimates of the amount of crude oil that spilled into a Colerain Township nature preserve continue to rise as the pipeline restarted Sunday with a 20 percent reduction in pressure, according to the EPA and a spokesperson for Sunoco Logistics, which owns the pipeline.

So far, about 17,000 gallons of an estimated 21,000 gallons of crude oil spilled have been recovered from the site in the Oak Glen Nature Preserve, a Hamilton County park, according to an EPA report . Original estimates put the spill amount at closer to 10,000 gallons.

After testing a specially engineered clamp placed over the five-inch crack in the 64-year-old crude oil pipe, the Department of Transportation approved a plan to resume operations.

The goal is to run the pipe for six to nine weeks so customers at the end of the line can stock up on crude oil. Then Sunoco will shut down the line again, this time to remove and replace the damaged pipe, according to Steve Conn, chief and spokesperson for the Colerain Fire Department.

At that point, the cracked pipe will be sent to a lab for testing to determine why, and when, it failed. Officials agree that a leak of an estimated 21,000 gallons of oil through a five-inch crack likely did not happen quickly.

“If it started out as a pinhole, who knows how long ago it started?” Conn said.

Impact on wildlife measured

So far, crews have collected 24 animals, including crayfish, salamanders and frogs, from the site. Most were covered with oil, and all were turned over to representations from Great Parks of Hamilton County , according to Conn.

“The wildlife and remediation of the habitat here is going to be huge,” said Conn, who lives nearby.

He said several national environmental organizations have spotlighted the spill. “This is being looked at at a national level because of the nature preserve.”

As of Monday evening, rescue teams had collected more than two dozen living creatures from the spill area, most of which were covered with oil. Some creatures were not as lucky as those that were warmed, cleaned and kept safe from the toxic water nearby. A park spokesperson reported 11 crayfish, two green frogs and one salamander (not the endangered type) had been found dead.

“We still don’t know what is down in the rocks of the stream,” Bob Mason, stewardship manager for Hamilton County Parks. “It’s not likely that anything that was in the stream survived.”

Mason said teams from Hamilton County Parks, the Ohio EPA, Delaware’s Tri-State and Cardno, a natural resource management firm, continue to operate on day and evening shifts to collect any and all wildlife they can find. Mason is working 12 to 15 hours daily on the site.

He said that the stream that carried the crude oil to the acre-size pond is “loaded with all kinds of insect larva,” including mayflies and dobsonflies that serve as food for a variety of woodland creatures. “It’s truly amazing when you turn over a rock in the stream, the amount of life teeming under that rock,” Mason said.

The water appears much better than it did earlier this week, Mason said, but an oily sheen remains. As the temperatures rise this week, he said his workers will prepare for busy evenings as more frogs and salamanders make their way toward the stream.

“It will be a while before this stream can sustain them again,” he said.

The affected portion of the 1,000-plus mile pipeline runs through a High Consequence Area (HCA) , or an area “where a release could have the most significant adverse consequences,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation website.

Pipeline operators, who designate HCAs along their routes, are also responsible for increasing efforts to keep pipelines in those areas safe.

Clean-up operations continue around the clock

No crime has been committed, officials said, but the intensity of the effort resembles the coordination that law enforcement usually employs.

“It’s basically like a crime scene,” Conn said of the coordinated effort between local, state and federal officials and industry representatives.

He said that the township’s street sweepers have been cleaning East Miami River Road, Thompson Road and other small residential streets daily to clear away dirt and dust stirred up by excavation equipment and trucks that have been navigating the hilly terrain close to the site of the damaged pipe.

As part of the clean-up, crews are constructing an access road off of Treetop Lane to get close to the site of the leak both now and when they return to replace the damaged pipe.

“Any access that we need through private property, we negotiate a right of way with landowners,” said Shields, who said he expects the operations to continue for several months, though on a much smaller scale.

Those negotiations include compensation for some land and homeowners who, for the past week, have seen trucks and other heavy machinery disrupt the calm of their narrow, gravelly roads that abut the nature preserve.

Learn more:

  • Watch videos of the clean-up efforts here and here .
  • Keep
    • track of the latest information about the spill on the EPA website here .
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