20,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a damaged pipeline into a nature reserve in southwest Ohio — double the initial estimates — according to officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The leak was discovered by Gary Broughton as he was driving on March 17 and smelled a “fuel, oily smell,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
“It’s absolutely terrible,” Broughton told the 911 dispatcher. “It made me sick when I saw it.”
The crude oil leached into the 374-acre Glen Oak Nature Preserve, 20 miles north of Cincinnati. Wildlife officials said thus far small animals have been impacted by the spill but thanks to the cold weather, fewer large animals are moving through the contaminated area.
The spill came from a five inch crack in the Mid-Valley Pipeline, running 1,000 miles from Texas to Michigan. On Monday, the pipeline operator, Sunoco Logistics, said the pipeline had been repaired and reopened. A company spokesman told the Associated Press that the cause of the spill is still under investigation.
Cleanup is likely to be time-consuming and expensive, as crews have had to build a road to get heavy machinery into the area and build a containment structure to attempt to keep spilled crude oil out of the nearby Great Miami River.
Far from an isolated incident, the massive leak is “at least the third time in the last decade that oil has leaked in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region from this pipe” and “is the 40th incident since 2006 along the pipeline, which stretches 1,100 miles from Texas to Michigan,” according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, citing data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
How long the pipeline had been leaking is unknown. Residents near the affected area told the Cincinnati Enquirer that they had been smelling petroleum for days before Broughton got out of his car and discovered the spill. The story is reminiscent of last year’s major pipeline spill in North Dakota — the worst onshore oil spill in U.S. history — discovered not by the pipeline operator or responsible company, but a farmer harvesting his wheat.
In order to accommodate the oil and gas boom sweeping the U.S., an expansive network of pipelines is being re-purposed, reversed, and constructed at a rate that alarms industry observers. Individual companies are left largely in charge of pipeline routes and safety monitoring and regulators like the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration say they don’t have the tools they need to enforce stricter standards. According to an analysis of PHMSA data, since 1986 there have been nearly 8,000 significant pipeline incidents, resulting in more than 500 deaths, more than 2,300 injuries, and nearly $7 billion in damage.