U.S. Criticizes Pepco's Spill Responsegreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
U.S. Criticizes Pepco's Spill Response By Raymond McCaffrey and Todd Shields Washington Post Staff Writers Wednesday, April 12, 2000; Page B05
The worst oil spill in the 104-year history of Potomac Electric Power Co. continued to spread across Patuxent River shoreline in Southern Maryland yesterday, as federal officials faulted the company's early efforts to clean up the spill.
Company officials said they had doubled the size of cleanup crews on duty, and federal officials said additional workers would be called in today.
About 400 workers from Pepco and others participating in the cleanup were deployed yesterday to contain what was left of more than 111,000 gallons of fuel oil that leaked from a pipeline Friday evening at Pepco's Chalk Point Generating Station in Aquasco, according to Nancy Moses, a Pepco spokeswoman.
Moses said oil from the spill at the southern edge of Prince George's County was "showing up in some of the tidal and sensitive stream areas" yesterday after washing up Sunday and Monday along nearly five miles of Patuxent River shoreline in Calvert County.
U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), whose district includes the stricken area and whose St. Mary's County home lies along a portion of the Patuxent that was afflicted yesterday by a sheen of oil, flew over the river in a helicopter. He said what he saw was "awful."
"I don't think the response to this was as effective as everyone hoped it would be," Hoyer said. "The contractors hired to handle the oil spill did not move as rapidly, or marshal a work force as large as needed, to get this under control."
EPA spokesman Vance Evans said last night that workers were expected to toil through the night laying floating barriers called booms across the mouths of creeks to prevent oil from reaching into them. He said federal authorities were calling in more workers, though he did not have a specific number. "Everything is being upgraded," Evans said. "We're ramping up."
"Having more booms in place Friday and Saturday would have been helpful," Evans said. "A stronger response from the Pepco contractors would have helped. . . . I don't know what the exact problem was, but the booms didn't get up in time."
Responding to the criticism, Moses maintained that Pepco's response to the leak has been dictated from the start by the advice of state and federal officials who began arriving on scene soon after the spill was detected.
"We were more than willing to do what we were being directed to do," Moses said.
Company officials also announced that they and state and federal agencies had scheduled a community outreach meeting for 7:30 tonight at the Benedict volunteer fire and rescue squad station.
Boaters have been warned to stay away from stricken portions of the river.
Pepco officials said they had the oil under control about 30 minutes after the leak was detected Friday. They set up booms to contain slicks in Swanson Creek, which lies next to the Pepco station and empties into the Patuxent. However, they said they ran into trouble when a severe storm swept into the area Saturday night, buffeting the creek with winds gusting up to 50 mph.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the leak. Pepco officials said the pipeline had never before suffered leaks. The pipeline was last inspected 18 months ago, a Pepco official said, and it was being prepared for maintenance when the spill was detected.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), April 12, 2000
Despite oil cleanup effort, spill drifts toward the bay Equipment is being shifted downstream By Joel McCord and Heather Dewar Sun Staff
The oil that spilled from a Prince George's County electric plant over the weekend and fouled beaches on the Calvert County side of the Patuxent River has started moving downstream with the tide toward the Chesapeake Bay.
The plume of oil that once stretched about five miles south along the eastern shore of the river went three miles farther yesterday -- reaching Buzzard Island and Sandy Point on the Calvert County side and was found on Golden Beach and in Trent Hall and Indian creeks in St. Mary's County.
Nancy Moses, a spokeswoman for Potomac Electric Power Co. which operates the plant at Chalk Point, said company crews, private contractors and officials from state and federal agencies were struggling to keep the oil north of Sheridan Point, about 16 miles north of the bay.
Carrie Dietzel, a community involvement coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said cleanup crews are moving equipment and workers to bring the spill under control.
The spill of 111,000 gallons of No. 2 oil, one of the worst in Maryland in years, occurred about 6 p.m. Friday in a 45-acre marsh near the head of Swanson Creek.
PEPCO crews stretched containment booms across the creek that night and began the long, arduous cleanup. But a storm Saturday with winds of 25 knots gusting to 50 knots blew water and oil over the containment booms, out of the creek and across the river.
It was not clear yesterday how much oil PEPCO kept in the creek, but the rest is floating in the river or has washed up on beaches and coated wildlife.
Dianne D. Pearce, president of Chesapeake Wildlife Sanctuary, said yesterday her group has captured swans, mallards, a heron and a muskrat -- all covered with oil -- and took them to its lab in Bowie to clean them.
"We're responding to calls and checking them out," she said. "As we find and retrieve animals, we get what we can to triage, then transport them."
Officials have scheduled a public meeting at 7: 30 p.m. today at the Benedict Fire Hall to discuss the situation with residents.
The marsh in Swanson Creek is less than three feet deep, and the winds that blew most of the water out of it over the weekend left the bottom exposed to oil, said Kent Mountford, senior scientist with EPA's Chesapeake Bay program.
That coating would kill worms, snails, periwinkle snails, fiddler crabs and small crustaceans that are important food sources for fish.
Insect larvae, like midges, are lying on the marsh bottom ready to hatch, providing essential food for flycatchers, swallows and other birds that will soon be returning from winter migration. Oil on the exposed muck would kill the larvae and might create food shortages for the birds, Mountford said.
Federal records obtained yesterday show that the federal Office of Pipeline Safety recorded two past oil spills involving PEPCO's Chalk Point plant and the pipeline that feeds it.
In September 1995, operators for ST Services, the company that operates the pipeline, spilled about 4,000 gallons of oil at the pipeline terminal in Piney Point when workers failed to line up a series of valves properly.
And in August 1987, PEPCO workers at Chalk Point tried to pour more oil into a tank than it would hold and spilled 52,000 gallons. But PEPCO spokesman Nancy Moses said the tank was double-walled, so the spilled oil was captured without any harm.
The pipeline from Piney Point to Chalk Point is among those that could face stricter regulations under a set of rules the Office of Pipeline Safety is developing.
In 1992 and again in 1996, Congress passed laws ordering the federal agency to identify the nation's most delicate and valuable wild areas that are crossed by oil pipelines, where spills could do serious, long-term harm. The Office of Pipeline Safety would have the right to set tougher safety standards and hold more frequent inspections.
The Chesapeake Bay is among the places on a preliminary list of areas meriting extra protection. But eight years after Congress acted, the agency is still trying to develop a method for identifying the targeted areas. A draft proposal is now open for public comment; no further action will be taken till the comment period closes in July.
Yesterday, Vice President Al Gore proposed legislation to require pipeline operators to establish comprehensive inspection and repair programs and reduce the impact of accidents.
"These pipelines are vital to our economy, but without adequate safeguards, they can pose a serious threat to our families," Gore said.
Originally published on Apr 12 2000
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 13, 2000.
PEPCO officials offer apologies to residents for 10-mile oil spill Company, EPA say they lost control By Joel McCord Sun Staff
BENEDICT -- Officials of Potomac Electric Power Co. apologized to Southern Maryland residents yesterday for an 111,000-gallon oil spill at the company's Chalk Point plant that contaminates parts of a 10- mile stretch of the Patuxent River.
Cleanup experts from PEPCO and the federal Environmental Protection Agency said they lost control of Friday night's spill within the first 36 hours because of the weather and a chaotic cleanup response.
As a result, they said yesterday, crews failed to install floating booms that would have kept oil out of some vulnerable creeks downriver.
Several of those creeks are heavily tainted with oil, and workers continue to recover oiled birds, fish, muskrats and otters from the affected waters. The area is home to about 30,000 people, many of them long-distance commuters who settled here because of the beauty of the area.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), April 13, 2000.