Cause of crude oil spill at Oak Glen Nature Preserve leaves EPA with questions

COLERAIN TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Some 3,000 gallons of oil and water have been vacuumed from a Hamilton County park, but it could take more than a week to fully clean the grounds.

Crude oil from an underground pipeline leaked onto park property Monday night. Colerain fire crews found “petroleum product” in the Oak Glen Nature Preserve near Blue Rock Road at about 8 p.m., after dispatch received complaints of an oil-like smell.

The Mid Valley Pipeline Company was called to repair the 20-inch pipeline's damage. By Wednesday afternoon, more help was needed. Sunoco Logistics added contract workers, and the Environmental Protection Agency brought cleanup experts to the park.

The pipeline, which appears to stretch from Longview, Texas to Marysville, Mich., was shut down at about 12:20 a.m. Tuesday. By 5 a.m., crews contained the leak and began repair work.

Crews believe about 10,000 gallons of crude oil spilled, affecting close to one mile of the creek.

The Department of Transportation began investigating Wednesday, unsure of what caused the break. Crews worked into the night hours to pull oil from the area's water.

The first phase of cleanup which involves vacuum trucks removing the oil from the pond's surface.

Officials said Sunoco will cover cleanup expenses, but the price tag is still unclear. Sunoco owns 91 percent of Mid-Valley Pipeline Company.

The EPA is checking that oil hasn't seeped into ground water, and will monitor the area for air contamination.

"We do have a drinking well used for drinking on this side of the road that will be sampled in the near future, in addition, the health department has identified up to 70 more locations that will be looking into," Steve Renninger told WCPO reporter Jay Warren.

Officials said Wednesday they don’t expect to find any water contamination.

“Anyone who might be curious, it would be wise not to become in contact of crude oil, because skin exposure obviously can cause health effects,” Hamilton County Public Health Commissioner Tim Ingram said.

"When they arrived they found some petroleum product in the marshland area in the nature preserve. During their investigation, they were able to track it up the hill between East Miami River Road and Thompson Road and they located an area directly in line with a crude oil pipeline that runs through this region,” Colerain Twp. Fire Capt. Steve Conn said. “It looked like there was a small break in that area. They were able to see a definite area where it looked like it was leaking some oil out of the pipeline and they continue to investigate.”

The spill happened on part of the Sunoco crude oil pipeline. According to the company’s website, its pipelines in the Midwest consist of about 1,000 miles of pipeline that start in Texas and pass through Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and ends in Michigan. This pipeline provides crude oil to a number of refineries, primarily in the Midwest.

A park ranger told WCPO’s Shannon Kettler that residents started noticing a distinct odor several days ago.

“The crude oil is going into what we call wet weather stream, which means it's normally dry. So they'll be no fish in there. There might be crayfish. This is also the time when salamanders start to migrate back to wet areas. (Monday) night we saw no evidence of animal kill,” Bob Mason of Great Parks Hamilton County said.

Officials expect to better understand the situation once the oil is cleaned up and agents can walk the area.

"My understanding is we will probably pump out the wetland. There is no evidence of it going any further. We walked up and down. It seemed to be pooling in that wet area, in the marshy wetland. So that's fortunate. It didn't get to the river. It didn't get to the aquifer. We should be able to get that pumped out,” Mason said.

Alison Auciello, Ohio-based organizer for Food & Water Watch released a statement Tuesday night.

“Last night’s pipeline rupture, and the ensuing devastation to the surrounding areas that it will cause, serves as a grim reminder that just because oil and gas drilling isn’t taking place in southwest Ohio, we can still be adversely affected by infrastructure problems brought on by oil and gas development.

“As drilling increases in Ohio, so too will the burden on infrastructure to transport these products to market, often overseas. With the increase in pipelines cutting through our preserves and farmland, comes a greater risk of future spills and leaks.

“Our thoughts are with those impacted by Monday’s leak, and it is our hope that damage to drinking water can be avoided," Auciello said.

The spill ran onto private property Wednesday.

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