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Pipeline leaks fuel on summit

DAN FOSCALINA

Work crews from Santa Fe Pacific Pipeline are battling a possible leak – and 12-foot snowdrifts – in a fuel pipeline running from Bay Area refineries, over Donner Summit and into Reno.

Jerry Engelhardt, Santa Fe Pacific’s director of regulatory affairs, said investigators discovered a six- to 12-foot pool of water with an oily sheen layer on top three miles west of Donner Lake near the headwaters of Summit Creek. Cross-country skiers first reported a petroleum smell in the area, he added.

“It appears as though the sheen on the water is a diesel or gas substance from our pipelines,” Engelhardt said at a press conference March 4.

The pipeline shut down March 1 and an inspector was dispatched to identify the type of petroleum product, Engelhardt said. Officials from Nevada County Environmental Health, the state Department of Fish and Game and the state Department of Forestry joined the investigation as well, he added.

Steve Tostengard, district maintenance director for the Santa Fe Pacific, said the pipeline carries gasoline, diesel and jet fuel as far as Powell Air Force Base in Nevada.

Work crews are trying to determine if a leak exists and how to keep it from flowing into Donner Lake, Tostengard said. Investigators have yet to determine, however, the cause of the spill, he added.

“Pressure readings at our Reno terminal say the pipeline is not leaking,” Tostengard said.

Absorbent booms and a sandbag dam have been placed along Summit Creek to capture any petroleum traveling from the initial spill, Tostengard said. One dam is positioned about one-eighth of a mile from Donner Lake, he added.

“Our main concern is keeping the product out of Donner Lake,” Tostengard said, adding recent winter storms hinder the process.

Snow drifts as high as 12 feet, high winds and steep

terrain make access to the pipeline difficult and is delaying Santa Fe’s assessment of the leak, Ron Perrault of DFG. He was confident, however, the spill is contained.

“The area is almost at the top of the Sierra crest and there is very little (moving) water up there,” Perrault said. “We are trying to be proactive and take quick action.”

Tostengard said Donner Lake water from six locations is being sampled and analyzed by the environmental health department to determine if fuel is making its way from the summit.

Perrault said there is little or no danger to mammals and other wildlife in the spill area. He said most mammals are in hibernation and fish populations on the summit are not large.

“If the product gets farther down the mountain it will be a bigger concern,” he said.

Tracey Gidel, of the county environmental health department, said drinking water from Donner Lake will not be effected.

“We believe we have mitigations in effect that will prevent the spill from threatening Donner Lake,” he said.

Assisting Santa Fe-Pacific are the Town of Truckee, Donner Ski Ranch and Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, Tostengard said. In addition, Donner Lake Water Co. officials were alerted to the incident.


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