Category Archives: Oil slick

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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    Track failure likely cause of oil train derailment, fire in Mosier

    Repost from KATU.COM

    Track failure likely cause of oil train derailment, fire in Mosier

    By Donna Gordon Blankinship, Associateed Press, June 5, 2016
    Mosier tracks being replaced on Sunday, June 5 (KATU News photo).png
    Mosier tracks being replaced on Sunday, June 5 (KATU News photo)

    MOSIER, Ore. — Officials now say a track failure was likely the cause of the oil train derailment and explosion in the Columbia River Gorge Friday.

    A failure of the fastener between the railroad tie and the line was likely the problem, but more investigation will be required before railroad officials know for sure, Raquel Espinoza with Union Pacific said Sunday.

    Union Pacific inspects the tracks that run through Mosier twice a week, and the most recent inspection took place on May 31, Espinoza said. Union Pacific had completed a more detailed and technical inspection of this section of track at the end of April and found no problems.

    The railroad is focused on removing the crude oil from the damaged cars as safely and quickly as possible, Espinoza said. Its priority is to bring people home safe to Mosier, where 16 of 96 tank cars train derailed Friday and started a fire in four of the cars.

    “We’re doing everything we can to get you back home, but we’re not going to risk your safety,” Espinoza said at a news conference. When asked if she knew how much the cleanup was going to cost the company, Espinoza said, “I don’t know and it doesn’t matter.”

    “Our priority here is bringing people home. Nothing else matters,” she added. Repairs to a water treatment system, which runs under the tracks, would need to be completed before people could return to their homes, the railroad said.

    About a hundred people – a quarter of the town’s population – have been evacuated from their homes since Friday in an area about a quarter mile around the train.

    Mosier’s mayor and fire chief said Sunday the derailment and fire in their town could have been a lot worse.

    Fire Chief Jim Appleton says the usual amount of wind in Mosier – about 25 mph – could have turned this incident into a major disaster, destroying the town and sending flames across state lines.

    “My attention was focused on the incident that didn’t happen,” Appleton said. “It probably would have burned its way close to Omaha, Nebraska. That’s how big it would have been.”

    Mayor Arlene Burns said the people of Mosier were “incredibly lucky.”

    “I count myself lucky that we dodged a bullet,” Burns said, after noting that her own child was at school within a few blocks of the derailment. “We hope that this is a wake-up call.”

    The fire and derailment damaged essential city services in the small Oregon town, authorities said Sunday.

    The Mosier waste water treatment plant and sewer system were not operational Sunday. Residents were told not to flush their toilets and advised to boil any water before they drank it or cooked with it. Mosier exhausted its water reserves fighting the fire and cooling the trains. Burns said the aquifers were completely depleted.

    Officials have been conducting continuous water and air monitoring since plumes of black smoke filled the sky near the scenic Columbia River Gorge.

    “Today’s priority is focused on safely restoring essential services to the community of Mosier as soon as possible,” incident spokeswoman Judy Smith of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement.

    Authorities were working to clean up an oil sheen in the Columbia River near the scene of the derailment, while the oil inside the remaining tank cars was being moved to trucks.

    No injuries have been reported. But Oregon health officials are asking people with questions or concerns to call a hotline to talk to a health expert at 888-623-3120.

    Including Friday’s incident, at least 26 oil trains have been involved in major fires or derailments during the past decade in the U.S. and Canada, according to an Associated Press analysis of accident records from the two countries. The worst was a 2013 derailment that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Damage from that accident has been estimated at $1.2 billion or higher.

    Evacuated residents needing assistance should contact the Union Pacific Claim Center located across from the Mosier Market or call the claim center at 877-877-2567, option 6.

    A health hotline has been set up at 888-623-3120. A boil water order remains in effect for the Mosier community.

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      Mosier Fire Chief Calls Shipping Bakken Crude Oil By Rail ‘Insane’

      Repost from Oregon Public Broadcasting, OPB

      Mosier Fire Chief Calls Shipping Bakken Crude Oil By Rail ‘Insane’

      By Amelia Templeton, June 4, 2016 4:39 p.m. | Updated: June 5, 2016 9:04 a.m.
      Jim Appleton, Mosier fire chief, speaks Saturday, June 4, 2016, following the derailment of an oil train in his town near Hood River Friday.
      Jim Appleton, Mosier fire chief, speaks Saturday, June 4, 2016, following the derailment of an oil train in his town near Hood River Friday. Amelia Templeton/OPB

      Jim Appleton, the fire chief in Mosier, Ore., said in the past, he’s tried to reassure his town that the Union Pacific Railroad has a great safety record and that rail accidents are rare.

      He’s changed his mind.

      After a long night working with hazardous material teams and firefighters from across the Northwest to extinguish a fire that started when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in his town, Appleton no longer believes shipping oil by rail is safe.

      “I hope that this becomes death knell for this mode of shipping this cargo. I think it’s insane,” he said. “I’ve been very hesitant to take a side up to now, but with this incident, and with all due respect to the wonderful people that I’ve met at Union Pacific, shareholder value doesn’t outweigh the lives and happiness of our community.”

      Federal regulators say oil from the Bakken region is more flammable and more dangerous, than other types of crude. It’s been involved in a string of rail disasters, including a tragedy that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

      OPB Groups join forcesShipments through the Columbia River Gorge have dramatically increased in recent years and oil companies have proposed building the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the country 70 miles downstream from Mosier, at the the Port of Vancouver.

      Emergency responders in communities along rail lines in the Northwest have struggled to prepare for a possible disaster. Much of the focus has been on stockpiling critical equipment needed to fight oil spills and fires, including a special type of fire suppression foam.

      But Appleton said that foam was of relatively little use for the first 10 hours after the spill in Mosier. It couldn’t be directly applied to the main rail car that was on fire.

      “The rationale that was explained to me by the Union Pacific fire personnel is that the metal is too hot, and the foam will land on the white-hot metal and evaporate without any suppression effect,” he said. “That was kind of an eye-opener for me.”

      Appleton said crews spent 8 to 10 hours cooling down the adjacent rail cars with water before the final burning car was cool enough to be extinguished using the firefighting foam. Fire tending trucks drew water from the Columbia River using a nearby orchard supply line, and applied roughly 1,500 gallons of water per minute to the white-hot rail cars.

      Other first responders described a chaotic scene, and difficulty getting to the site of the accident due to a massive snarl of traffic on Interstate 84.

      “It looked like the apocalypse,” said Elizabeth Sanchey, the Yakima Nation’s environmental manager and the head of its hazmat crew. “You get into town, and there is just exhausted firefighters everywhere you look. It was quite scary.”

      Emergency crews on Saturday, June 4, 2016, found an oil sheen on the bank of the Columbia River near the site of an oil train derailment and spill in Mosier, Ore., the day prior.
      Emergency crews on Saturday, June 4, 2016, found an oil sheen on the bank of the Columbia River near the site of an oil train derailment and spill in Mosier, Ore., the day prior. Amelia Templeton/OPB

      No lives were lost in the fire, and reports so far of property damage have been minimal, but an oil slick has appeared in the Columbia River, and officials said they haven’t determined for sure how oil is reaching the water. Yellow oil containment booms were stretched across the river to contain the oil.

      Sanchey and several other Yakama Nation first responders were monitoring the containment effort through binoculars from a nearby overpass.

      “It’s unknown how much oil is in the river, but it is in containment now, and we believe it to be relatively safe,” she said. “We currently have a sockeye run that is just starting, and lamprey live in the sediment, so that’s definitely a concern. We have endangered species at risk.”

      Jim Appleton said Friday was a horrible day for his town, and he feels like he narrowly avoided a catastrophe.

      “If the same derailment had happened just 24 hours earlier, there would have been 35 mph gusts blowing the length of the train,” he said. “The fire very easily could have spread to some or all of the 96 cars behind, because they were in the line of the prevailing wind. That would have been the catastrophe.”

      Crews subdued the fire from the oil train derailment in Mosier, Ore., by the morning of Saturday, June 4, 2016. Cleanup on the oil spill and charred rail cars continued into the weekend.
      Crews subdued the fire from the oil train derailment in Mosier, Ore., by the morning of Saturday, June 4, 2016. Cleanup on the oil spill and charred rail cars continued into the weekend. Emily Schwing/OPB

      In a press conference Saturday, the Union Pacific Railroad apologized for the incident.

      “We apologize to the residents of Mosier, the state of Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest Region,” said spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza.

      Espinoza said the railroad company will pay for the cost of fighting the fire. She said it has to wait for the area to cool down before it can extract the cars that remain and remove them by flatbed truck.

      The company said crude oil represents less than 1 percent of its cargo, and said it has trained more than 2,300 emergency responders across Oregon since 2010.

      Union Pacific set up information and health hotlines for Mosier residents. The information hotline number is 1-877-877-2567. The health hotline number is 1-888-633-3120.

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        Big oil slick off Santa Barbara County coast sparks new concerns

        Repost from the Los Angeles Times
        [Editor:  See also ABC News, Coast Guard Says California Oil Slick Will Vanish on Its Own.  – RS]

        Big oil slick off Santa Barbara County coast sparks new concerns

        By Javier Panzar , Joseph Serna, Matt Hamilton, July 29, 2015 10:39pm

        That greasy luster returned once again to the waters off Santa Barbara County.

        An oil slick that stretched more than 3 miles was spotted Wednesday by some kayakers, about two months after a ruptured pipeline spilled more than 21,000 gallons of crude into the ocean off this picturesque coastline.

        The sheen — no thicker than a coat of paint — did not prompt the closure of any beaches, and the U.S. Coast Guard said the oily substance would dissipate on its own.

        As Coast Guard investigators awaited lab results that may pinpoint the oil’s source, images of a shiny patch of sea and splotches of tar along these pristine shores sent a quiver of anxiety through a community that’s still recovering from the May 19 spill.

        Goleta Beach oil spill“I just hoped it wasn’t another oil spill,” said Janine Dorn, a substitute teacher who brought her black poodle, Jack, to survey Goleta Beach before sunset. The oil spill in May had her fuming, she said. “Then I see this and it’s incredible. This can’t be happening again.”

        Shortly before 11 a.m., the kayakers reported seeing the sheen about 1,000 feet off Goleta Beach, according to the county fire department. A black and brown gooey substance had coated the kayaks and the kayakers’ legs, according to photos from the fire department.

        Initially described as measuring 60 feet wide, the sheen by Wednesday evening had stretched 3.5 miles long and half a mile wide, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Ryan Schmid said. As tides moved, the oil split into sections and covered only about one-third of the total area, he said.

        The patch was seen floating near an oil platform owned by Venoco Inc., but the company denied that its platform was involved. That platform, known as Holly, was shut down in May, a company official said. Its pipeline was flushed of any oil and refilled with seawater.

        The Coast Guard, meanwhile, said the sheen could have been an ordinary, natural seepage. At Coal Oil Point, a seep field in the Santa Barbara Channel, thousands of gallons of oil flow into the ocean each day, something residents have grown accustomed to.

        “The earth burps all the time,” said Robert Hernandez, an electrician who fishes nearly every day off the Goleta pier. “You smell it, you get a little on you. No big deal.”

        Hernandez, 60, said he has been fishing along the Central Coast since he was 15. Sheens such as those spotted Wednesday are part of life in a region where the petroleum-rich sea bed regularly emits oil and natural gas, he said, which made him question why it was newsworthy. “It cracks me up,” he said. “At first I thought there was a shark attack or something.”

        Yet environmental activist Rebecca Claassen, an organizer with Food and Water Watch, said it’s too early to minimize the sheen as a natural occurrence, saying the oil platforms that dot the county’s coastline pose a daily risk. “We can see a spill any day as long as there is drilling off shore,” she said.

        Federal officials said Wednesday’s sheen also could be a remnant of this spring’s spill, when the corroded pipe operated by Plains All American Pipeline leaked an estimated 101,000 gallons of crude along the Gaviota coast and forced a weeks-long closure of Refugio State Beach.

        The director of the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, Charlton Bonham, said Wednesday that the cleanup of the Refugio spill is ongoing, with about 14,000 gallons of oily water removed from the ocean.

        Cleanup crews have responded to reports of tar balls as far away as Orange County, and one tar ball recovered in Manhattan Beach had the same oil “DNA” as the oil spilled at Refugio, he said.

        Appearing in Sacramento before the state Ocean Protection Council, Bonham said the natural seepage in the area is challenging how his agency assesses the effectiveness of recovery efforts. “What is clean?” he told the panel. “How clean is clean?”

        As federal and state investigators await the results of laboratory tests from Wednesday’s incident, Santa Barbara County’s director of public health, Dr. Takashi Wada, said there is no immediate risk to swimmers, and the county’s beaches and fishing piers remain open.

        After swimming in the water off Goleta Beach with her friend, Anya Schmitz, 16, opined that the water was crystal clear — perfect for a summer dip.

        “Conditions are great,” she said. “Seems like a lot of hype to me.”

        Panzar reported from Goleta; Serna and Hamilton from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Phil Willon in Sacramento contributed to this report.
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