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Summit pipeline leaked diesel and gas mixture

The fuel that spilled from a Donner Summit pipeline leak in early April was a mixture of diesel and gasoline, investigators have determined.

Crews responding to the fuel spill had been uncertain of the type of fuel because the pipeline carries gasoline, jet fuel and diesel.

The latest news, however, is neither good nor bad, said Tammy Lundquist, an engineering geologist with the Lahontan Water Quality Control Board, since diesel is easier to clean up than jet fuel but harder to deal with than regular gasoline.



Traces of the fuel are still present in the upper portion of Summit Creek, but the diesel becomes almost undetectable midway down the stream, Lundquist said. The snowpack in the immediate area of the fuel spill is now completely melted.

“It was discharged into the creek and it started to break down as it moves down the creek,” Lundquist said. “You can’t see it, but you can smell it.”



Spill investigators are still not certain how much fuel escaped the pipe before crews were able to locate the leak and cap it off. The volume of the spill is difficult to gauge because much of the fuel evaporated, said Rick Rainey, a spokesman for pipeline owner Kinder Morgan.

“There was never any liquid accumulation,” Rainey said. “A lot of it evaporated when it came out.”

The other signs of the spill in the area are a large spot of oil residue and a sheen of fuel that, when agitated, turns into foam.

The cause of the pipeline’s rupture was an “outside force,” according to Kinder Morgan’s evaluation, said Rainey. The leaky pipe section had a “small crack inside of a dent” that could have been caused by a tree or a boulder. The pipeline is buried a minimum of three feet underground.

The fuel line does not appear to be weak or in danger of leaking again, Rainey added.

“We’re confident that that line can be operated safely,” he said.

But the company is planning to evaluate the pipeline’s path over the summit to make sure the terrain and other environmental factors do not make the fuel line unstable.

Agencies including the California Department of Fish and Game and the water board will now work with Kinder Morgan consultants to take soil samples and determine the next step of the cleanup. Lundquist said that the spill area may be better left alone rather than bringing in crews that would disturb the fragile alpine environment of the summit.

“If concentrations are low it might be better to let nature do its course,” Lundquist said.

But fish and game biologists and botanists will be on site in July doing a two-day macro-invertebrate study, said fish and game spokeswoman Carol Oz. The quantity and condition of the insects in the stream will tell the biologists a lot about the fuel’s effect on the creek.

The immediate damage from the spill, at first glance, include unhealthy willow trees and “burned” grass on the edge of the stream.

The fuel spill was a minor to medium-sized leak, said Lundquist, and the water board is still evaluating possible fines against Kinder Morgan.

Kinder Morgan, Rainey said, knows it has the responsibility to pay for the cleanup.

“We’re going to take financial responsibility for the cleanup efforts that are required,” he said.


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