Tag Archives: Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

Mosier groundwater contaminated after derailment spill

Repost from the Hood River News

Mosier groundwater contaminated after derailment spill

By Patrick Mulvihill, July 22, 2016
TREATMENT PLANT in Mosier came back online in mid-June. The city had been trucking sewage to Hood River for treatment while their system was shut down following the train wreck.
TREATMENT PLANT in Mosier came back online in mid-June. The city had been trucking sewage to Hood River for treatment while their system was shut down following the train wreck. Photo by Patrick Mulvihill

Regulators have found contaminated groundwater at the site of the June 3 fiery oil train derailment in Mosier.

There’s no current threat to drinking water or beach users, according to Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), but concerns have surfaced for wildlife health in the Rock Creek wetland near the Columbia River.

“It really isn’t a significant issue of harming human health; however, there is a wetland (nearby) and we’re mainly concerned for animals (living there),” said Bob Schwarz, DEQ project manager.

DEQ staff found high levels of benzene and other volatile organic compounds in one of four test wells crews installed north of the Union Pacific train tracks in Mosier shortly after the train wreck.

Schwarz described the contaminant levels discovered at the east-most site as roughly 10 times higher than the safe amount for animal populations — 1,800 parts of benzene per billion, compared to the ecological risk level of 130 parts.

The wetland ecosystem includes various amphibians and insects, he said.

DEQ has ruled the local drinking water safe because Mosier’s municipal water supply is located about a mile away from the spill area, uphill.

Beach access at Mosier — a popular watersports access spot — has been deemed safe. Booms laid out on the river following the derailment (to catch a small sheen of oil) have since been removed.

Mosier’s wastewater system is also back in action. While heavy green sewage tanks and pump trucks were a common sight during early June, the town no longer trucks sewage to Hood River for treatment.

In the derailment, 16 cars of a 96-car Union Pacific train bearing Bakken crude oil left the tracks in what U.P. ruled an accident due to faulty rail bolts. At least three cars caught fire. Crews extinguished the blaze by early morning the next day.

About 47,000 gallons of oil escaped from four rail cars.

During the wreck, one of the railcars tore off the lid of a sanitary sewer manhole, allowing roughly 13,000 gallons of oil to flow into the nearby Mosier wastewater treatment plant. That system was shut down as crews worked to pump out oil and clean the piping network.

As a temporary fix, workers trucked sewage from Mosier to Hood River for treatment at the municipal plant on Riverside Drive. By June 16, the plant was restored, and shortly after Mosier’s system was fully functional.

A small sheen of oil leaked into the Columbia River through the wastewater system at some point following the wreck, DEQ reported.

Crews cast out absorbing booms into the river to contain the sheen. The exact amount is “unknown but low in volume,” according to a DEQ fact sheet, but it quickly dissipated.

Surface water samples in the river didn’t show any significant contamination from the spill, Schwarz said. He expects the booms will be replaced in September, before autumn rains, in case new rain flushes any oil from the ground into the river.

Agencies reported that the rest of the oil was burned off or absorbed into the soil. Excavation workers disposed of about 29,600 tons of earth that had been contaminated with petroleum.

Oil remaining in the derailed cars was transferred by truck to The Dalles, then hauled by rail to Tacoma, Wash., its original destination. The emptied railcars were taken by truck to Portland for salvage.

Following the derailment, DEQ oversaw the installation of six wells near the train tracks — two extraction wells and four monitoring wells. At the fourth monitoring site, staff found high petroleum levels and other compounds.

Now, DEQ is working with the railroad’s consultant to design an underground system that will treat the contamination, Schwarz said.

The “biosparge” system will include vertical pipes where air will be injected into the ground water. That oxygen will spur growth of naturally occurring microbes that will break down the oil.

“We are still waiting for groundwater flow direction information from CH2M, the consultant for Union Pacific Railroad,” Schwarz said in a July 6 memo.

Local conservation group Columbia Riverkeeper raised concerns about U.P.’s role in the high pollutant levels and called for a third party to steer the cleanup.

“It’s very concerning that we have such high levels of toxic pollutants so close to the river,” Riverkeeper staff attorney Lauren Goldberg said.

She asserted that the public needs to hold state officials accountable so that “U.P. is not at the wheel of this cleanup.”

Schwarz expects a small drill rig and a half dozen or so workers will be on scene in Mosier to implement the treatment system.

For more information, go to deq.state.or.us/lq/ecsi/ecsi.htm .

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    Terminal settles with Oregon over excess oil shipments (6x more than allowed)

    Repost from The Herald and News, Klamath Falls OR

    Terminal settles with Oregon over excess oil shipments

    AP, March 19, 2015 updated 1:00 pm

    CLATSKANIE, Ore. (AP) — The owner of an oil train terminal in northwest Oregon has agreed to pay a reduced fine for moving six times more crude oil in 2013 than was allowed.

    The Oregonian reports (http://is.gd/0Uivsj) the fine was cut by $15,000, to $102,292.

    The state Department of Environmental Quality said the premise of fine originally was that the company acted intentionally in shipping nearly 300 million gallons through the terminal near Clatskanie.

    But the agency now says it can prove only that the company acted negligently.

    Massachusetts-based Global Partners admitted no wrongdoing. Its lawyer said the company disagreed with the penalty but was happy the issue is resolved.

    Trains carrying North Dakota crude oil began moving through Oregon in 2012. At the Clatskanie terminal, it’s put on barges for West Coast refineries.

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      Washington, Oregon officials caught by surprise: unit trains of tar sands moving through NW and CA

      Repost from Oregon Public Broadcasting
      [Editor: Significant quote for us in California: “The trains originate in Alberta, moving through Idaho to Washington. From there, some are bound for refining in Western Washington and others travel along the Columbia River into Portland and south into California.”  – RS]

      Big Trainloads Of Tar Sands Crude Now Rolling Through NW

      By Tony Schick, Feb. 9, 2015
      Since 2012 Union Pacific has been moving oil through Oregon on mixed freight trains. In late 2014, the railroad began moving several mile-long trains of crude oil per month through the Northwest.
      Since 2012 Union Pacific has been moving oil through Oregon on mixed freight trains. In late 2014, the railroad began moving several mile-long trains of crude oil per month through the Northwest. Kool Cats Photography / flickr

      Trains carrying mass loads of heavy crude oil from Canada’s tar sands have begun moving through the Northwest, creating the potential for an oil spill in parts of Oregon and Washington where environmental agencies have no response plans or equipment in place.

      Union Pacific now moves between seven and 10 of these mile-long trains of Canadian crude per month through Northwest states, according to railroad spokesman Aaron Hunt. They can carry more than a million gallons of oil.

      The trains originate in Alberta, moving through Idaho to Washington. From there, some are bound for refining in Western Washington and others travel along the Columbia River into Portland and south into California.

      The seven to 10 monthly trains represents a big  increase over Union Pacific trains that had  previously been hauling mixed freight that included oil tank cars. The mile-long “unit trains” began in late November, according to the railroad, but spill planners at Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality and Washington’s Department of Ecology didn’t learn of the new shipments until late January and early February, respectively.

      Both agencies, along with emergency responders and rail safety inspectors, were previously caught unprepared in 2013 when shipments of sweet light crude from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields started moving through the region.

      Railroads are required to notify states about oil shipments larger than one million gallons under an emergency order from the federal Department of Transportation. The order was filed in response to national concerns about local fire departments being caught unaware or kept in the dark when these “rolling pipelines” were passing through their jurisdictions.

      That order applies only to Bakken crude; shipments from Canada are exempt. Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have called on the federal DOT to expand its regulation to include all shipments, with the aim of avoiding a situation like mile-long trains of tar sands crude moving without knowledge from the agencies tasked with oil spill cleanup.

      “It is unacceptable that volatile tar sands oil has been moving through our communities for months and yet Oregon officials only found out about it last week,” Wyden said in a statement released to OPB/EarthFix. “This apparent lack of communication with state officials responsible for Oregonians’ health and safety is exactly why I have been pushing for an iron-clad rule to ensure first-responders in our communities are notified about these oil trains.”

      Officials in Oregon and Washington said they lack the resources and authority for adequate spill planning along rail corridors. Rail lines touch more than a hundred watersheds in Oregon and cross more than a thousand water bodies in Washington.

      Unlike plans for marine transports and storage facilities, plans for who responds, how and with what equipment are lacking in Oregon and Washington when it comes to rivers and lakes.

      “We will respond, but our response won’t be as effective as it would be with the facilities where we’ve reviewed their plans, we know what they contain,” said Bruce Gilles, emergency response program manager at Oregon’s DEQ.

      Should a train full of tar sand oil spill today, response teams will be “going in somewhat blind,” and that means they won’t be able to work as quickly as they should, Gilles said.

      “You’re going to lose time, and that time translates into increased environmental damage and costs to clean up,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

      David Byers, response manager for Washington’s Department of Ecology, said the state has begun filling the regional gaps where it lacks response plans, but the effort will take years.

      Byers said tar sands crude presents many cleanup challenges the state’s never handled before.

      Bitumen is a hydrocarbon extracted from Alberta’s tar sands. It’s too thick to be transported like conventional crude. It’s either refined into a synthetic crude — making it more like conventional crude oil —  or combined with additives that give it a more liquid consistency.

      A heavy tar-like substance, bitumen can sink when it hits water. It’s also stickier, meaning it’s tougher to remove from wherever it spills. That’s what happened when a pipeline burst and spilled into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The cleanup cost exceeded $1 billion.

      Frequent rain and fast-moving rivers in the Northwest mean a lot of sediment that oil can stick to, further complicating cleanup.

      Byers and Gilles say they have no way of knowing what specific type of crude is in a given oil tanker car. Knowing that they’re dealing with a tar sand crude oil spill would dramatically influence their response.

      “It’s much harder to clean up on the bottom of a river bed,” Byers said. “Or if it sinks in, for example, Puget Sound, it’s going to be more difficult to clean up, and even more challenging for us to even locate and detect where the oil has migrated to.”

      It wouldn’t just be up to Oregon or Washington officials to handle spill-response duties if an oil train derailed in their state. Union Pacific has 30 hazardous materials responders across its 32,000 mile network and relies on private contractors for handling spill incidents.

      “This team of experts directs training, preparation and response for any type of accident involving hazardous materials,” spokesman Aaron Hunt said in an email. “We move hazardous materials on behalf of our customers because it is our job.”

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