EPA: River spill not evident

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 1, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

Dean Ullock, a federal on scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said this week there is no hard evidence of a diesel fuel spill in the Alabama River.

Last Thursday, the Selma Fire Department, the Dallas County Hazardous Materials Response Unit, EPA and Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) representatives convened at the Selma City Marina to conduct an investigation.

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Ullock – who went out onto the river in the “pitch black” dark last Thursday night – suspected the presence of a river oil sheen rather than a spill. A sheen occurs when a small amount of oil lies on the water’s surface, Ullock explained.

“We all went on the river in the darkness and went up the river five or six miles to try and find the leading edges of the so-called spill or sheen,” he said.

“We never found any evidence of a sheen or a spill. However, we did capture a faint odor of probably diesel. We had a thermal imaging camera on board. We had a piece of equipment to help confirm. We didn’t find anything.”

When Ullock investigated the river again at first light last Friday morning, he said there were still no signs of a spill, “either on the banks or on the water itself.”

Authorities had suspected any fuel that may have leaked into the river originated from the property of Jay Minter, a local farmer who uses a tank containing diesel fuel to run the pumps that draw water from the river to irrigate his crops. The farm is approximately 17 miles upriver from Selma.

Minter’s tank has the capacity to hold 9,000 gallons of diesel fuel. However, Minter claims only a miniscule amount seeped into the river waters.

“The landowner insists that he only spilled three or four gallons and that certainly wouldn’t be enough to cause a big sheen,” Ullock said.

“I don’t think we’ll ever really know.”

Attempts made to reach Minter were unsuccessful.

Ullock added that Minter had an employee who stated he observed fuel coming upriver from the Minter property, above Tyler.

“We went further upstream looking for evidence of that and we never found any indication that there was oil coming through north of that property,” Ullock said.

“It’s just inconclusive.”

Ullock said authorities are making sure that Minter and other local farmers are in compliance with Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) regulations. A complete list of SPCC requirements is available on the EPA Web site, www.epa.gov/oilspill/spcc.htm

“We met with the landowner (Minter) and sat down with him and told him the tanks that he uses to provide fuel to the pumps that draw the water out of the river are required to have containment around them,” Ullock said. “And he wasn’t aware of the requirement to have containment around those tanks.”

“We will be taking a look at other farmers in the area that run similar operations to try and prevent any future oil spills or sheens.”

As is stands now, Ullock said any amount of oil that was in the river last week has since dissipated.