Diesel remains in area of reported fuel spill at Copper Mountain
COPPER MOUNTAIN – Copper Mountain officials continue to test for, and remove, diesel from a spill that occurred at the resort more than a year and a half ago.
“We’re continually monitoring the well per state requirements, and so far there’s been no location of any oil, other than traces, from where the fuel was allegedly emptied,” said Copper’s spokesman Ben Friedland.
“Everything is essentially non-detectable,” said Larry Delin, environmental protection specialist with the Colorado Division of Oil and Public Safety.
On Jan. 3 of 2001, a tanker truck driver reportedly dumped 7,300 gallons of fuel into an observation well – instead of a nearby underground storage tank – at the resort’s maintenance facilities at the south end of the Alpine lot, along Highway 91.
Following the incident, resort officials contracted an environmental management consultant, Pendergast and Sarni Environmental, to locate the fuel and monitor the area. A total of 5,500 gallons of liquid was pumped from the well, but less than 15 percent of it was diesel, officials said.
The well, a PVC pipe 5-inches in diameter, was 12-feet deep and open at the bottom, leading experts to believe the fuel likely went into the ground below, eventually reaching the water table.
The Environmental Protection Agency assumed control of the cleanup that spring but turned that responsibility over to the state last fall, said Martha Wolf, EPA on-scene coordinator.
Colorado’s Division of Oil and Public Safety now oversees the weekly monitoring performed by Copper’s environmental management consultant, Pendergast and Sarni.
According to Delin, trace amounts of diesel have been found in the area of the spill.
The highest amount was recorded in May, when officials recovered a fuel depth of 1.29 feet floating on the surface of the well’s water. Though that might seem like a significant amount, Delin said it was in a well with only a 2-inch diameter, so was not considered dangerous.
“Any amount of (fuel) is a large amount, but not in comparison to the thousands of gallons that was reportedly dumped there,” he said, speculating that May’s increased amount likely was because of the rapidly rising groundwater, resulting from spring snowmelt.
“Contamination will rise up with the groundwater,” Delin said. “It will float it off the soils, to some extent.”
Approximately 15 wells were dug after the spill, but only four have shown any amounts of diesel – and all of those are within the immediate area of the spill.
“The biggest concern we would have is with any movement toward the perimeter wells,” Delin said, adding that such movement might indicate a migration toward the area’s lakes, rivers and water wells.
Testing will continue until the product is removed, Delin said, but he could not estimate when the monitoring might be completed.
“We’ll just play it by ear and let the data tell us what to do,” he said. As the amounts found decrease, so will the frequency and range of the testing, he added.
By September 2001, Copper already had paid $300,000 for cleanup, and it continues to foot the bill for their consultant’s weekly tests, Friedland said.
Lu Snyder can be reached at 970-668-3998 x203 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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