Science

Environmental Clean-Up Continues At Alabama Gasoline Spill

This aerial photo shows a pair of water retention ponds at the site of a pipeline leak, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016, near Helena, Ala. The retention pond on the left is where the gasoline has been contained. A main gas line is expected to restart Wednesday with a temporary bypass after a leak and spill in Alabama led to surging fuel prices and some gas shortages across the South, a Colonial Pipeline official said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
This aerial photo shows a pair of water retention ponds at the site of a pipeline leak, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016, near Helena, Ala. The retention pond on the left is where the gasoline has been contained. A main gas line is expected to restart Wednesday with a temporary bypass after a leak and spill in Alabama led to surging fuel prices and some gas shortages across the South, a Colonial Pipeline official said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Credit Brynn Anderson / Associated Press
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In Alabama, the clean-up near the Cahaba River south of Birmingham continues, following the pipeline leak that lead to Atlanta’s gas shortage.

The effects on the environmentally-sensitive area could have been worse, said David Butler, riverkeeper of the Cahaba Riverkeeper organization. Most of the hundreds of thousands of gallons of gasoline went into a man-made retention pond near a strip mine, he said, and none has been detected in the river itself.

“It’s hard to imagine a set of circumstances that would be more fortunate,” he said. “My initial reaction was complete panic.” 

Several animals have been found that were killed by the spill. Butler said dozens of threatened and endangered species live in the Cahaba River. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is leading the spill response. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are also on the scene.

“We’re getting close to the end of the emergency response phase,” said Kevin Eichinger, an on-scene coordinator with the EPA. “The oil is being removed off the pond and we’re beginning to talk about soil excavation and installing groundwater monitoring wells.”

Eichinger said the water will likely be removed from the retention pond. Another nearby retention pond has some traces of contamination, but can be treated, he said. Groundwater monitoring will have to continue for years to make sure the gasoline does not seep into water supplies.

Colonial Pipeline has been cooperative, Butler said.

“We’re certainly not happy whenever anything like this happens, but I think it would be unfair not to point out that Colonial has done everything we’ve asked them to do,” he said.

“We’ve gotten a lot of questions about the gas shortage. To us, that part of the story is kind of irrelevant,” said Butler. “The environmental concern is our chief concern.”

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