WILMINGTON — In the wake of a class-action lawsuit filed last week over the recent diesel fuel spill, the News Journal researched other spills and their outcomes in the courts and with the EPA.
An estimated 23,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from an R+L Carriers tank into and around Dutch Creek and many area properties the first weekend in March.
R+L Carriers has been “very cooperative” with authorities and has agreed to fund the entire cleanup, the U.S. EPA’s Steve Renninger said in a local press conference held March 8.
Area residents initially notified the Wilmington Fire Department of the smell of fuel on a Saturday, said Clinton County EMA Director Thomas Breckel, and that began a chain of communications between dispatchers and fire departments, among others.
Renninger said R+L notified the National Response Center of the spill that Saturday evening, and the response center notified local, state and federal agencies. The Clinton County EMA put out a public notice of the spill and alerted the media.
When asked on March 8 whether R+L will face any fines, he stated that the emphasis remains containment.
How much is 23,000 gallons of fuel?
If you pumped 10 gallons of gasoline into your vehicle the day you turned 18, and did that every week until a couple months after your 62nd birthday, you would have pumped 23,000 gallons.
Or you could have filled up 418 of your 55-gallon drums.
The News Journal researched other large fuel spills to see how those were dealt with, from clean-up efforts to fines.
Below are three examples — two spills which occurred in southwest Ohio within the past eight years, and one in California in 2020 that was settled just three months ago.
Cin-Air spill, 2019
Cin-Air LP pleaded guilty and was sentenced in U.S. District Court in October 2019 for violating the Clean Water Act by causing and mishandling a jet fuel leak in March 2019 at Lunken Airport.
A 2019 news release from the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Ohio, stated, “The company was sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to pay a $90,000 fine. As part of its probation, the company will provide training to all employees on spill prevention and cleanup. It will also publish a full-page acknowledgment of its conduct in Business Air’s FBO Today.
“According to the plea document, on March 21, 2019, Cin-Air’s fuel pump at the Lunken Airport airplane hangar was inadvertently left running overnight after a mechanic refueled an airplane,” the 2019 news release stated. “A safety switch called the ‘dead man switch’ had been previously altered with a zip tie, causing the switch to permanently stay in the open position.
“When Cin-Air employees reported to work the morning of March 22, they discovered the fuel pump had been running all night and leaking. It was estimated that more than 3,000 gallons of fuel had spilled from the pump during the night.
“Cin-Air never notified to the National Response Center and waited approximately six hours before notifying the Cincinnati Fire Department. Before calling the fire department, company employees washed down the spill area with water into a nearby storm sewer,” the news release stated.
Efforts were made to contain and clean up the spill, and it is estimated 1,700 gallons of fuel were recovered. Cin-Air contributed approximately $220,000 toward nearly $440,000 in cleanup costs.
“The defendant’s negligence resulted in a fuel spill that contaminated the Little Miami River, a tributary of the Ohio River,” said Special Agent in Charge Jennifer Lynn of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Ohio. “Today’s sentencing demonstrates that EPA and our law enforcement partners are committed to enforcing laws designed to protect the health of our communities and our natural resources.”
Duke Energy spill, 2014
Representatives of Duke Energy Beckjord LLC agreed to plead guilty in federal court in late 2016 to negligent discharge of oil, in violation of the Clean Water Act, according to a 2016 news release by the Department of Justice office in Cincinnati.
The filed plea agreement included a $1 million fine in addition to restitution.
“According to court documents, on August 18, 2014, Duke Energy caused a spill of approximately 9,000 gallons of diesel fuel from its Walter C. Beckjord generating station facility in New Richmond, Ohio to the Ohio River. The oil sheen on the Ohio River from the discharge extended for approximately 15 miles,” the release stated.
“A Duke Energy operator transferring fuel from three 705,000-gallon capacity tanks ran the forwarding pump too long and over-filled the two 30,000-gallon capacity above-ground fuel tanks. Diesel fuel spilled to escape the containment area and enter directly into the Ohio River.
“The Ohio River is a source of drinking water for residents of both Kentucky and Ohio. As a result of the spill, the Northern Kentucky, Greater Cincinnati and Louisville water supply intakes were closed on August 19, 2014. Water intakes were reopened the next day, after water samples did not detect the diesel fuel in the drinking water.”
The news release continued, “Significant resources were expended by at least 35 government and private sector agencies in the emergency response and clean-up related to the discharge. Duke Energy’s prompt clean-up efforts resulted in the recovery of only a small portion of the discharged oil.
“To date, Duke Energy has reimbursed more than $1.2 million to those entities for costs incurred in connection with the spill. Further, Duke Energy has deconstructed the bulk fuel oil storage tanks involved in the spill and no longer stores bulk fuel oil at the Beckjord facility, the 2016 news release stated.
“As part of the plea agreement, Duke Energy has agreed to also pay $100,000 to the Foundation for Ohio River Education, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the cultural, ecological and economic value of the Ohio River through community education. Duke Energy will also issue a written public apology in an advertisement published in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
“‘We will continue to take environmental violations seriously to ensure the safest living conditions for the residents of our District,’” U.S. Attorney Glassman said.
“‘This case underscores the need for companies to have proper measures in place to prevent and respond to fuel spills so they don’t impact our water resources,’” John K. Gauthier, Acting Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Ohio, stated in the news release. “‘Had Duke Beckjord, LLC taken measures to ensure that valves were closed to contain fuel spills, this incident would not have occurred. Their lack of these measures resulted in a large fuel spill to the Ohio River which required substantial environmental response efforts.’”
Kinder Morgan spill, 2020
A 63,000-gallon fuel spill occurred in California 15 months ago, and was settled in December 2021.
KGO ABC 7 News reported on its website in December 2021: “Exactly one year after more than 1,000 barrels of gasoline spilled into a flood control canal in Walnut Creek, a multi-million dollar settlement has been reached with the company that operates the pipeline.”
“‘While we can’t undo the damage already done to the community and the environment,’” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta, ‘we are here today to secure justice for the residents of Walnut Creek.’”
Justice, according to Bonta, is “making a major fuel pipeline operator pay for the costs and damage done after the 63,000 gallons of gasoline spilled into a Walnut Creek canal last December,” KGO reported. The report added that impacted residents were upset that they were not included in the settlement.
KGO ABC 7 reported, “SFPP, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, agreed to 18 months of probation and will pay $2.5 million in fines to settle two misdemeanor criminal charges, despite stating that they ‘disagree with any allegation that SFPP acted unlawfully.’”
The initial report of the spill was that it was relatively small, maybe 300 or 400 gallons, but within days, it became apparent that it was much larger, the station reported.