Summit pipeline leak still being cleaned up | SierraSun.com

Summit pipeline leak still being cleaned up

David Bunker
Sierra Sun
Emma Garrard/Sierra SunA worker, contracted by pipeline owner Kinder Morgan, shovels contaminated dirt into containers at the site of the trans-Sierra Pipeline leak next to Interstate 80 on Donner Summit Tuesday morning.
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More than 770 gallons of fuel-laden water have been sucked from a Donner Summit hillside where a high-pressure, trans-Sierra fuel pipeline leaked in late August.

The incident has some Donner Summit residents wondering if the fuel leak will contaminate their well water.

A mixture of diesel, gasoline and jet fuel leaked from an elbow joint on a bypass pipe used for emergency backflow operation of the pipe, said Mary Serra, an engineer with the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board.

The leak was discovered on the pipeline that runs from Bay Area oil refineries to Fallon, Nev. on Aug. 24. The fuel-contaminated area is along Interstate 80 just east of Kingvale.

Contractors for energy giant Kinder Morgan have been on scene excavating the 1,500 cubic yards of contaminated soil and suctioning polluted water from the site ever since.

A Kinder Morgan inspector walking the pipeline with a low-tech “sniffer” that detects fuel in the air, found the leak, according to the water board.

Kinder Morgan and its contractors were quick to respond to the leak, said Serra.

“Their response action has been really good because they want to get work done before it snows,” she said.

At times, one lane of Interstate 80 was closed so crews could install secondary drains on the highway to trap contaminated water. The contaminated water has been funneled to a holding tank near the interstate.

Serra said cleanup and monitoring of the site will continue through the spring. Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Helen Wells said it is too early to tell when the cleanup will be complete.

Meanwhile, Charles Riley, who lives within three miles of the pipeline leak, said he is concerned the leak may degrade his well water and the Yuba River watershed.

“All of us depend on that well and ground water,” Riley said. “It’s a long way to ship in bottles of Alhambra.”

Riley said the 300-foot artesian well he dug three years ago has “perfectly pristine water.”

“This water is more pristine than anything that you can buy bottled,” he said.

The nearby Donner Trail Elementary School is also served by well water, Riley said.

The water board is not considering fining Kinder Morgan for the leak, Serra said.

“We don’t move toward enforcement unless we have a recalcitrant discharger,” she said.

Kinder Morgan’s Wells said that the leak had no effect on the Yuba River, and that no Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE), a fuel additive that is known to contaminate groundwater, was present in the fuel.

The pipeline that crosses Donner Summit was built in the late 1950s.