Pepco Oil Leak Coats Marsh Near Patuxent MD : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Pepco Oil Leak Coats Marsh Near Patuxent By Katherine Shaver Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, April 9, 2000; Page C05

More than 125,000 gallons of fuel oil leaked from a Potomac Electric Power Co. pipeline in southeastern Prince George's County on Friday night and coated about 45 acres of marshland near the Patuxent River in what Maryland officials called the state's worst oil spill in years.

Crews from Pepco and environmental cleanup companies worked until sundown yesterday near the utility company's Chalk Point power plant in the southeastern tip of Prince George's.

Workers reported finding several dead muskrats and others seriously ill in the black goo that smelled like heating oil, said Alan Williams, chief of emergency response for the state Department of the Environment.

All of the oil was contained to Swanson Creek, which borders Prince George's and Charles counties, several hundred yards from where the creek flows into the river, Williams said. No homes were located in the immediate vicinity.

"This is a major oil spill," Williams said. "It's contained in this one area of marshland and didn't get out in the river, which is really good, but we hate to see these things happen. The marshland sacrificed itself for the river."

The cleanup could take weeks, Williams said. Oil clung to grass jutting from the water, and the long-term impact to plants and wildlife is unclear, he said.

Three investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates pipeline accidents, were on the scene yesterday to determine the cause of the leak, NTSB spokesman Paul Schlamm said.

Investigators will examine the condition and maintenance of the underground pipeline and how it was being used when the spill occurred, Schlamm said. They do not know when they will be able to dig to pinpoint the source of the leak, he said.

Susan Woods, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said it hasn't been determined what, if any, action would be taken against Pepco or anyone associated with the pipeline.

The leak occurred in a 12-mile branch of a 51-mile pipeline that usually carries oil that is burned to generate electricity during the peak summer and winter months, said Nancy Moses, a Pepco spokeswoman. Ordinarily, the one-foot-wide pipe would carry an oil similar in consistency to mayonnaise. But the spill occurred when a lighter oil similar to home heating oil was sent through the pipe as part of a maintenance effort to ready the tube for regular inspection, Moses said.

Employees from the company that maintains the pipeline noticed the leak about 6 p.m. Friday and, by midnight, had shut off the valves isolating a 1,500-foot section that contained the leak, Moses said.

Within 30 minutes of noticing the spill, Pepco employees put one mile of floating booms in the creek with curtains dropping into the water to keep the oil from reaching the river, Moses said.

"We walk that 51 miles regularly, and it's inspected," Moses said. "We're just really sad about this. It's a beautiful wetland area. We intend to work with the Maryland Department of the Environment after this to restore it to its beauty

-- Martin Thompson (, April 09, 2000

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