Officials report progress in Ohio oil leak cleanup

LISA CORNWELL Associated Press Published:

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Cleanup crews expect to spend about another week vacuuming oil from the ground and water where thousands of gallons of crude leaked from a pipeline into a southwest Ohio nature preserve, officials said Tuesday.

Workers have also been excavating soil near the break since the leak was noticed last week in the Oak Glen Nature Preserve west of Cincinnati. Federal officials estimate more than 20,000 gallons -- about 500 barrels -- spilled into an intermittent stream and an acre-sized marshy area that forms a pond in wet weather.

The next phase will focus on removing any residual oil in the soil under and around the creek and pond, plus long-term monitoring of soil, water and air quality in the 374-acre preserve, said Capt. Steve Conn, of the Colerain Township Fire Department.

"Probably less than 10 percent of the preserve has been impacted," Conn said.

A spokesman for Sunoco Logistics, the primary owner of the pipeline that was repaired and reopened Sunday, said Tuesday, that there is no exact timetable for completion of the next phase, but it could take months.

"We won't leave until the job is done," Sunoco Logistics spokesman Jeff Shields said.

The company is paying for cleanup of the leak that officials have said came from a 5-inch crack in the 20-inch pipeline, but Shields had no estimate of the costs so far.

Sunoco Logistics shut off the stretch of the Mid-Valley Pipeline Co. system from Hebron, Ky., to Lima, Ohio, early March 18 after a leak was confirmed. Investigators with the Department of Transportation's Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration are working to determine what caused the crack.

Conn knew of no previous problems with the pipeline in the more than 20 years he has worked with the fire department. The pipeline dates back to 1950.

Investigators from the safety administration, which regulates interstate pipelines, have said the pipeline's operator is required to inspect it at least once every five years, with federal inspectors checking inspection records to ensure compliance.

Federal records show 39 previous incidents since 2006 along the pipeline system that runs about 1,000 miles from Texas to Michigan, but the administration had no immediate information on specific problems in the section in the preserve. Messages left for both agencies weren't immediately returned Tuesday.

An official with the Ohio Environmental Council said the leak renews concerns over pipeline risks.

"It seems that the industry and regulators are forever minimizing pipeline risks," said Jack Shaner, the advocacy group's deputy director. "First they tell us these pipelines can't leak, then they tell us it's only a small spill and now this."

He said there needs to be increased inspections, enforcement and accountability.

Officials said any need for changes would be part of the investigation and ongoing discussion with the safety administration, but Shields said the company has "met or exceeded" all requirements.

No problems have been detected with air quality or local water wells, but at least 13 small creatures --including crayfish, frogs and salamanders -- contaminated with oil have died and more than 20 were being cleaned and cared for until they could be released back into the wild, said Bob Mason, stewardship manager for the Great Parks of Hamilton County, which owns the preserve.

Mason said he expects to find more dead creatures in the stream as cleanup continues.

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