Oil spill cleanup crews return to the San Juan River after flash flood washes out two containment ponds

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Crews reset a boom across the San Juan River at Sand Island on March 12.

By Zak Podmore

Published: March 13, 2019

A pipeline break near Montezuma Creek that was discovered nearly two weeks ago is continuing to cause contamination concerns along the San Juan River.

Cleanup crews with Elk Petroleum, the Australia-based company which owns the damaged pipeline, were in the final stages of mopping up the spill on Tuesday when a flash flood in Bucket Wash breached two containment ponds the company had built across the wash in early March. The ponds drained into the San Juan River, and crews returned to the Sand Island Boat Ramp near Bluff to put up set up a boom and skimmer. A boom setup was also used to respond to the initial spill on March 1.

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Jeff Roedell, Four Corners business unit manager for Elk Petroleum, said that no oil was detected at Sand Island during the latest breach and the boom was put up as a “precautionary measure.” The boom was in place overnight and was taken down on March 13.

Donnie Trimble, an Elk Petroleum operations manager who was on scene at Sand Island on Tuesday, repeated that the booms were a precaution. “There was a rainbow on it [the water in the breached ponds],” he said, adding, “We’ve cleaned everything we can clean, it’s just if there’s residuals under a rock somewhere or something.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has been receiving regular updates from Elk Petroleum about cleanup and was notified about the failure of the containment ponds.

The pipeline leak was first discovered on February 28 near the town of Montezuma Creek. Company officials originally reported a total spill of several barrels of oil, which was upped to five barrels a few days later.

Roedell said the estimate for the leak has now risen to 196 barrels, or 8,232 gallons, of crude oil. He reported that of 196 barrels that leaked, 195.75 barrels worth of oil were recovered from the site through pumping the containment ponds and removing contaminated soil.

The leak also contained 883 barrels of produced water, 873 of which were recovered according to company estimates.

Oil was discovered on the surface of the San Juan River 19 miles downstream of the pipeline on March 1.

–For more background on the pipeline leak, read: Cleanup Effort Underway after Pipeline Break Spills Crude Oil into San Juan River.