Between 5,000 and 8,000 gallons of diesel spilled into the Ohio River on Monday, but officials say drinking water in the area is safe, reported the Cincinnati Inquirer.
The spill occurred late Monday night at Duke Energy’s W.C. Beckjord Station in New Richmond, Ohio, during a routine transfer. It was discovered just after 11pm, and Duke Energy shut it down by 11:30pm. While the company is still investigating, Duke spokeswoman Sally Thelen told the Inquirer that the spill may have been caused by human error.
“We have mechanisms for overflow valves,” Thelen said. “We are still investigating the exact cause, but what we do feel may have happened was one of the valves was opened, which caused them to overflow.”
The Coast Guard briefly shut down 15 miles of the Ohio River, and cleanup crews coordinating with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have set up three stations between the W.C. Beckjord Station and Coney Island to suck up the oil. About 750 gallons had been cleaned up by 4pm on Tuesday. Officials originally estimated the spill at 8,000 gallons, but then revised that number down once daylight arrived.
Both Greater Cincinnati Water Works and the Northern Kentucky Water District have intake valves for drinking water supplies along the route of the spill. The intake valves sit below the surface and the oil rides along the top of the water, but nonetheless the valves were shut down to protect the water supply. Both utilities told the Inquirer they intend to rely on backup reservoirs to keep the water supply going, and won’t reopen their intake valves for some time. The Northern Kentucky Water District said no diesel was found in samples it took from its water supply Tuesday night, and that it has methods of treating the water that will get rid of the oil.
In February, one of Duke Energy’s storage ponds for coal waste spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash sludge into North Carolina’s Dan River. A federal grand jury is investigating the incident, and documents suggest the company was warned repeatedly in 1986 and 1992 about the integrity of the pond drainage pipe that burst, causing the spill. Duke is cleaning up the spill under the EPA’s supervision, and has agreed to reimburse the agency for all oversight and cleanup costs. Before the February spill, various environmental groups had been attempting for years to sue Duke Energy over alleged leakage from its various storage ponds into the state’s groundwater.
Then in March, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources cited five other power plants owned by Duke Energy for improperly storing their coal ash waste. The company has also been cited for deliberately dumping 61 million gallons of coal ash waste into North Carolina’s Cape Fear River, after it failed to run the waste through the required filtration system.
The W.C. Beckjord Station has run for about 60 years in Clermont County, about 20 miles to the east of Cincinnati. It’s scheduled to be shut down in 2015 due to an unrelated set of Environmental Protection Agency regulations due to take effect that year. Rather than spend the money to upgrade the plant, Duke Energy felt closing it would be the smarter financial call.
Peter Tennant, the executive of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, told the Inquirer that spills like this occur once every few years.