Review Finds Fault in Mineral Oil Leak from The Dalles Damby Erik Robinson
The Columbian, February 11, 2004
Aging equipment, lax inspection and an inadequately designed containment area contributed to a leak of 1,300 gallons of mineral oil into the Columbia River last month from The Dalles Dam, a federal review panel has concluded.
Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers vowed to comply with the panel's recommendations, released Tuesday. The corps operates the dam, which is located about 80 miles upstream of Vancouver.
"This analysis tells me our crews must be more diligent with their maintenance responsibilities," said Debby Chenoweth, operations chief for the corps' Portland district. "I've called for a full review of our processes and maintenance activities at all our dams. Preventable spills are not acceptable."
Oil leaked into the Columbia River on Jan. 15, after water-filled cooling pipes on an electrical transformer ruptured at The Dalles Dam.
The panel of three current and former federal environmental and dam operational specialists called for the corps to prepare containment booms and absorbent pads in case of oil spills, regularly inspect transformers, and make sure containment sumps are operable and big enough to contain the largest-possible oil leaks.
"The age, condition and physical state … of the transformer and the condition of the secondary containment were the major contributors to the event," the panelists wrote.
The oil contained trace amounts of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, a cancer-causing agent. The broken transformer is one of the last on the Columbia still containing trace amounts of the carcinogen, which was banned in 1978.
Meanwhile, an environmental watchdog group continued to push for a congressional investigation of the corps' oil-handling at dams throughout the Pacific Northwest.
"We think this whole thing is a chronic problem with the corps," said Greg deBruler of Columbia Riverkeeper, who noted that the corps originally estimated that only 75 gallons of oil spilled.
The panelists, who visited the dam for two days last week, included Mitchell Samuelian, an operations and maintenance specialist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Denver; Gary Sanford, an operations and maintenance specialist with the Bonneville Power Administration in Portland; and Jim Blankenship, a retired environmental compliance officer with the Bureau of Reclamation at Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona.
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