Though the U.S. has enjoyed a handful of months that were free of big oil spills, it seems the summer is set to end on a sour note, with an Aug. 18 incident that spewed somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 gallons of crude into the Ohio River. The spill occurred during a "routine fuel transfer" by Duke Energy, which is attributed to a valve accidentally being left open, though this is not yet known for sure and the matter is being investigated.
Duke Energy should ring a painful bell for anyone familiar with the ash spill in the Dan River earlier this year - the company was also responsible for that disaster, which affected North Carolina and Virginia with 100,000 tons of coal ash. The Ohio spill occurred near a coal plant (the W.C. Beckjord Power Station - owned by Duke), 20 miles east of Cincinnati, and just a few miles upstream from a drinking water source for close to two million people, according to Greenpeace. However, the valves that allow the Ohio River's water to flow into that source have been shut, preventing contamination.
Cleanup crews are working to gather and dispose of the oil, and the U.S. Coast Guard has closed a 15-mile stretch of the Ohio River. Peter Tennant, executive of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, said this type of medium-sized spill occurs in the area every few years; it often goes unreported. He remarked, "This one is of major concern because of where it happened. Anytime something happens upstream from a water intake, it is of major concern. You don't want to take chances with people's health."
The Columbus Dispatch stated it is not yet known what damage has been done to local wildlife, if any. Either way, this comes as a second blow to the local ecosystem, as a previous 10,000-gallon spill hit the surrounding area back in March, affecting part of the Oak Glen Nature Preserve near Cincinnati, after a Sunoco-owned pipeline burst.
There is, however, a silver lining for nearby residents, as Duke Energy is being forced to retire the W.C. Beckjord Power Station - a 60 year-old plant - by the end of this year, thanks to new EPA regulations recently implemented by the Obama administration as part of its climate action plan. This will likely eliminate the handling of oil in the area, and thus also the resulting accidents.
Ohio-based Sierra Club organizer Neil Waggoner noted, "This is yet another example of dirty fossil fuels putting us at risk. We pay with our health. We pay for the dangerous cleanup with our tax dollars. And at the same time that Duke Energy was spilling oil into our river, it was also asking the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to bail out some of its old, polluting coal plants by passing extra costs on to its customers. If utilities in Ohio invested these dollars in clean energy, we could breathe easier, have safe water, and power our lives without suffering these dangers."
Photo: The taint of oil, seen in the Ohio River. David Sorcher/Greenpeace