Petroleum spills round out environmenally disastrous week

Aug. 3, 2000
In a week that can be termed disastrous for the environment, petroleum spills in four nations have made headlines.

Compiled from wire reports

Brazilian oil giant spills toxic MTBE

RIO DE JANEIRO (ENS) - Two weeks after Brazil's biggest oil spill in 25 years, the government owned oil company Petrobras admits another of its pipelines leaked July 30, spilling 1,000 litres (270 gallons) of toxic fuel additive near Rio de Janeiro.

The company said July 29 it had contained the spill of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a toxic substance known to cause cancer in animals and often added to gasoline to boost combustion rates and make it burn more cleanly.

Petrobras officials were alerted after residents in the town of Paracambi, about 70 kilometers (44 miles) northwest of Rio, began complaining of nausea and a strong chemical smell.

Petrobras shut down the OSRIO pipeline that runs between Volta Redonda, 135 kilometers (84 miles) northwest of Rio, and Japeri, near Paracambi. The company discovered a hole in the pipe on July 30.

Petrobras officials described chances of the leak contaminating ground water as "minimal."

The local population is not thought to be at risk from contamination because it gets its water from a reservoir. Concerns for wildlife in the area remain.

Rio de Janeiro's state environmental secretariat said it will fine Petrobras up to one million reals (US$560,000) depending on the extent of damage.

In July, the Parana State Environmental Protection Agency fined Petrobras 50 million reals, (US$28 million) after more than four million liters of crude oil spewed into a tributary of the Iguacu River from a ruptured pipe at the Getulio Vargas oil refinery in Araucaria, 560 kilometers (350 miles) southwest of Sao Paulo.

In January, an underwater oil pipe at Petrobras' Reduc refinery near Rio De Janeiro broke, leaking 1.3 million liters (340,000 gallons) of crude into protected mangrove swamps in Guanabara Bay. The area is expected to take at least a decade to recover.

Petrobras said July 30 it would remove and treat all of the contaminated soil around the spill in Paracambi and replace it with new soil.

Diesel oil spill contaminates river in central Spain

MADRID (Deutsche Press-Agentur) - Workers in central Spain Aug. 2 checked the advance of a diesel oil spill which contaminated a 10-kilometre stretch of the Tajo River, officials said.

The oil, which leaked from a tank at the Aceca power plant in Villaseca de la Sagra, was stopped at a barrage 10 kilometres downstream and would be pumped out, they said.

The accident occurred when four of the tank's evacuation and alarm systems failed simultaneously, Deputy Environment Minister Pascual Fernandez said.

Initial reports had spoken of a leak of up to 250,000 litres (66,000 gallons).

Officials warned residents to avoid drinking the contaminated water or using it to irrigate crops. Environmentalists said that the local ecosystem would take at least a year to recover from the damage, which was worsened by the low water level in the Tajo.

The power plant belongs to the two companies, Union Fenosa and Iberdrola, which could he handed fines of up to 100 million pesetas (560,000 dollars), officials said.

The Tajo, which runs for 1,120 kilometres, is the longest river on the Iberian Peninsula. It flows into the Atlantic Ocean at Lisbon.

©2000 dpa Deutsche Press-Agentur GmbH

Pipeline leak contaminates ground in Washington

YAKIMA, Washington (ENS) - A leak from a pipeline near Pasco, Washington may have released up to 16,000 gallons of gasoline to the ground, investigators with the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) and the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) learned last week.

The leak was discovered July 21 when the volume of gasoline being moved from one petroleum tank farm to another came up short.

State agencies were first notified that five gallons of gas had been spilled. Tidewater Barge Lines of Vancouver, which operates a terminal on the Snake River, noted a discrepancy during at least three separate gas transfers from a nearby Chevron petroleum distribution center via a six inch pipeline that travels between the two facilities.

Both agencies have ordered Tidewater to stop fuel transfers between the two tank farms until a thorough investigation and cleanup activities are conducted and the lines have been repaired. A quarter-inch hole was found in the pipe adjacent to the Chevron facility. In locating the site of the release, the company increased pressure to the pipeline during the transfers in hopes of spotting where the gasoline would rise to the surface of the ground.

"This is not an appropriate method to locate a suspected leak on a pipeline," said Linda Pilkey-Jarvis of Ecology's spill response program.

"There was a serious potential for a much more dangerous outcome. We're grateful that didn't happen."

Excavation work has begun to uncover the 1950s era pipes that connect the two facilities. According to investigators, contamination extends at least 40 feet deep, but the presence of high voltage power lines has slowed down the digging process.

Town cut off from water as oil slick spreads

CHETWYND, BC, Can - The oil slick from up to 1,000 cubic meters (6,300 barrels) of crude oil that spilled into British Columbia's Pine River July 31 has reached the small town of Chetwynd, Lycos' Environmental News Service reported.

The town gets its drinking water from the river. It shut off its intake valve Aug. 3 to keep out oil from the 21 kilometer slick. The oil pipeline has been closed, and the progress and location of the oil on the river is being monitored by helicopter.

The reservoir still has enough clean water for up to six weeks, but more supplies would have to be acquired soon. In the short term, water will be trucked to the community to complement existing supplies while a plan is developed. The spill occurred 62 miles upstream from Chetwynd after the Federated Western Pipe Line ruptured. Pembina Pipeline Corporation based in Calgary, Alberta assumed ownership of the pipeline from Imperial Oil and Anderson Exploration only the day before the spill. Pembina is investigating the cause of the rupture.

The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission and the B.C. Environment Ministry also are investigating the spill. When power returned and pumps were restarted, a loss of pressure was noticed, indicating a leak.

A mobile water testing lab was set up Aug. 3 while residents were asked to conserve water. Emergency response staff are concerned about the spill's impact on fish and wildlife. TV and media photos showed dead fish including the endangered bull trout, and an oil covered golden eagle.

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