Fuel pipeline fixed; Effort shifts to spill clean up
A palm-sized dent in Santa Fe Pacific Pipeline’s fuel transport system on Donner Summit leaked during a pressure test last Friday, leaving investigators scratching their heads as to how long a combination of gasoline, jet fuel and diesel has been seeping into the Sierra.
Dana Michaels, state Department of Fish and Game spokesperson, said SFPP crews found small cracks in the pipeline – which carries fuel to Nevada from Bay Area refineries – that resemble lines of a human palm.
Preliminary snow tests revealed traces of diesel, jet fuel and gasoline, she added.
“They found a very small crack; the dent had lines on it like the lines in your palm,” Michaels said. “There were traces of all those (products) and there is no telling how long it was leaking.”
SFPP District Director Steve Tostengard said the eight-inch diameter pipeline can carry about 84,000 gallons of product over the summit each hour, totaling more than 2 million gallons each day.
Work crews did, however, replace 30 feet of pipeline near the spill – about three miles west of Donner Lake on Summit Creek – March 7, Michaels said. One-half mile of pipeline was then pressure
tested with water and petroleum products before its integrity was confirmed and the line was reopened, she added.
A representative from the state fire marshal’s office inspected and approved the repair job, Michaels said.
Having identified and repaired the leak, officials with Nevada County Department of Environmental Health, SFPP and DFG are making a concerted effort to contain and remove petroleum product from Summit Creek and prevent any from washing into Donner Lake with the spring runoff, Michaels said.
“Quite a bit of it rolled down the creek and we don’t know how much of it went into the granite,” Michaels said. “(Crews) have to remove all the snow, all the contaminated soil and run the oil-water mixture through a separator.”
The next step in the procedure includes taking soil samples, studying the soil and excavating areas believed be contaminated. And all contaminated soil will be disposed. “It’ s just an unbelievable process,” Michaels said.
Although no concrete estimates have been released, Michaels said after talking with agencies and crews familiar with the clean-up process the final cost could reach $2 million. She said the cost includes hiring the necessary labor force, positioning absorbent booms and pads along the creek and toxic waste disposal.
She added, however, that SFPP is responsible for reimbursing state and federal agencies responding to the spill and subsequent clean-up.
More than six absorbent booms have been placed across the creek between the spill and Donner Lake, and crews are collecting any petroleum stopped at each, Michaels said.
Crews set up two underflow dams complete with charcoal filters and water aerators along Summit Creek as precautionary measures to keep the product out of the lake.
“The charcoal attracts hydrocarbon molecules that are in the product,” Michaels said, adding the aerator forces the hydrocarbons to churn up from the bottom of the creek and stop at the underflow dams.
As for water sampling tests at Donner Lake, Michaels said, “Nothing that exceeds normal drinking levels. They are still testing for toxicity though.”
Michaels added, however, the tests are being hindered by a boil water notice already in effect for Donner Lake residents resulting from the January floods. Officials will continue to sample lake water until the spill is cleaned up, she added.
Residents in subdivisions near Summit Creek and west Donner Lake reported a strong petroleum odor Monday night. Dr. Richard Burton, Nevada County public health officer, said petroleum odors are mainly noticeable in late afternoon or early evening, however, there is no imminent health risk to the public.
DFG continues to monitor wildlife in the area, said DFG spokesperson Alexia Retallack. Aquatic insects at Summit Creek’s headwaters have been impacted, she said, but beaver and trout populations in the lower creek area show no signs of contact with the product.
Traffic controls will remain in effect during daylight hours on Donner Pass Road west of the lake until the spill area is excavated, Retallack said.
Cross-country skiers alerted local, state and federal agencies of a gas odor atop Donner Summit March 1. Since that time, three agencies and more than 30 people have been working around the clock battling 12-foot snowdrifts, steep terrain high winds to contain the spill, Retallack said.
SFPP is the largest common carrier products pipeline system in the western U.S. with 3,000 miles of pipeline and 14 terminals.
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Nevada County recorded 93 new COVID-19 cases on Monday making the new total 9,817. There were 221 active cases, 46 more than the previous Friday.