Pictured: Gas Leak Response; Photo by Julie McClintock of the Booker Creek Watershed Alliance
CHAPEL HILL – The Environmental Protection Agency is praising the efforts of the Chapel Hill Fire Department for the way it responded to Friday’s gas leak at the Family Fare BP off Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. Questions still linger, though, about what impact the leak will have on our local environment.
Kenneth Rhame, On-Scene Coordinator for the EPA, says at this point the EPA does not have an official number of how many gallons of gasoline leaked into Crow Branch Creek.
“Before the spill was contained, the Fire Department had ordered resources like getting soil, rock, piping, and constructed the underflow dam that is just north of N. Lakeshore Drive in order to ensure that the spill was contained,” Rhame says.
Rhame explains that the quick response of the CHFD made the difference in keeping a bad situation from turning into something much worse.
“Normally for the construction part, they will wait for contractors to arrive on site to do that [respond to the leakage]. Here, they used various city assets to get it done. I think it ultimately prevented more environmental impact than what would have happened,” Rhame says.
The Fire Department worked in conjunction with the Chapel Hill Police Department, Orange County Emergency Services and the N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources Division of Water Quality.
The EPA provided air monitoring to make sure that the public and response agencies weren’t being exposed to any harmful odors. The residential areas were not endangered, but the site itself had elevated readings
Rhame explains that Bishop Construction Company was doing renovation work at the BP last Thursday and needed a pump to drain the rainwater from a footing hole connected to a pipe leading to a Town storm drain. When the rain began to accumulate, it caused the footing hole to cave in, and then falling concrete punctured a hole in the fiber glass tank below. The leaking gasoline flowed into Crow Branch, a feeder to Booker Creek and Eastwood Lake.
“Since they had a submersible pump in the excavation, a lot of the petroleum that was released was pumped directly to the storm drain,” Rhame says.
Danny Smith, Regional Supervisor for the DENR Division of Water Resources, believes that Crow Branch was the only body of water affected. His crew was on site Tuesday assessing the current situation. Smith says they are awaiting the analysis of water samples collected from several creek branches but don’t expect to get the results until later this week or early next week.
“One of the things that we are looking into is how much product remained in the tank and how much was de-watered from the sump pump from their excavation. The window of time that the pump was in operation will help us to get a better handle on the volume of product that may have gotten into the stream,” Smith says.
Smith explains that the gas station’s tank had two compartments which hold 6,000 gallons of gasoline each. One of those compartments was breached by the falling concrete.
“So certainly there was product that was released, and there was a lot of product that was available to be released, but not all of it was,” he says.
Rhame says that trace amounts of the gasoline remain in the stream, adding “You get this bathtub effect where the water goes up and down, and you’ll get some sheening along the banks where the gas was caught up in vegetation.”
He expects the total clean-up to last a month, but the active recovery process will take about a week more. He says the DENR will continue to monitor the situation.
“They still have petroleum collection equipment mobilized out there,” Rhame says. “They still have absorbent booms and pads that they are using to pick up the residual. I would say that stuff will stay in place for about a week or two just to catch anything residual as rains occur.”
Bishop Construction Company and the gas station are considered the “potentially responsible parties,” but Rhame says the EPA hasn’t taken any subsequent action at this point. He says the construction company has been “very cooperative” and brought in Zebra Private Remediation Services to help in the clean-up. Zebra’s vacuum truck was used to remove the remaining gasoline on site to prevent further leakage.