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Fuel cleanup far from complete

Renee Shadforth
Sierra Sun
Photo by Ryan Salm/Sierra SunHalfway up Donner Summit, a Universal Environmental employee works on clearing a waterway to help contain an oil spill from a pipeline leak that was discovered April 1.
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No one is saying exactly how much fuel leaked from a Donner Summit pipeline earlier this month, but environmental officials say that the cleanup effort is far from complete.

The fuel spill, which was discovered by a skier on April 1, has leaked an undetermined amount of diesel and jet fuel into the Donner Summit snowpack and into the upper reaches of Summit Creek, a tributary to Donner Lake.

No one ” including environmental officials and Kinder Morgan, owner of the pipeline ” knows exactly how much fuel is trapped in the summit snowpack, which means it’s anyone’s guess how much fuel is going to flow downstream as the snow melts.

At this point, biologists have not found any traces of the products in Donner Lake, but they will be taking water samples for at least another year.

“As of April 25, there are no hits [of fuel in Donner Lake],” said Tammy Lundquist, an engineering geologist with the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.

In upper Summit Creek, the amount of contamination has gone down ever so slightly, but the readings also tend to fluctuate with the ebb and flow of snowmelt, Lundquist said.

After the leak was reported on April 1, the pipe was shut off immediately, according to a Kinder Morgan spokesman, and cleanup crews set up oil-absorbent booms and coffer dams to prevent fuel from reaching lakes and streams around the spill. They have also set up dams at the west end of Donner Lake as a precautionary measure.

Lundquist said it was fortunate, especially in light of all the miles the pipeline travels in remote areas, that the leak occurred in an area where people recreate.

“This is a place where people were cross country skiing,” she said. “Had it been a quarter of a mile down the line, maybe no one would have noticed it.”

The source of the leak wasn’t pinned down until four days later, when the section of line was removed and replaced. The pipeline was back in service that day.

Since the incident, Universal Environmental, consultants hired by Kinder Morgan, have back-filled the dirt above the line with decomposed granite and sent the leaky pipe to a lab for testing. They also test the water in Summit Creek daily.

The pipe has been sent to a lab, where experts will determine how much fuel may have seeped out of the line and what caused the damage.

“It’s pretty clear that it resulted from an outside force,” said Kinder Morgan spokesman Rick Rainey.

Rainey explained that the melt and freeze of snow above the pipe shifted the rocks and dirt surrounding the line, puncturing the pipe.

Universal Environmental employees have been on the summit every day skimming fuel off the top of the creek and testing the water. On the warmer days, they wear masks because the fuel becomes more volatile.


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