Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Another Exxon Valdez - Kirtland Air Force Base fuel spill could be much, much worse than thought

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 25th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A jet fuel spill discovered in 1999 at the Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico revealed that the fuel had been leaking into the area's groundwater since 1950. Recent estimates now say that the spill could have been far worse than previously suspected. Some now say the spill could be as large as 24 million gallons, twice the size of the oil spill from the Exxon Valdez.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The spill from Kirtland Air Force Base had originally been estimated at about eight million gallons. State geologist William Moats, who made the original calculations, recently estimated the spill could be up to three times larger.

The Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil when it ran aground in Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1989.

A jet fuel oil leak was discovered from a broken 16-in. pipe at Kirtland in 1999. The Air Force initially estimated that pipe leaked roughly between one and two million gallons of jet fuel in that 49-year span.

The escaped jet fuel is currently floating a foot thick atop Albuquerque's water table 500 feet beneath the ground toward the wells that supply the city's drinking water. New Mexico officials estimated the cleanup could cost $100 million and have maintained that the Air Force's original plan to clean up the spill could take 56 years.

Jim Davis, head of the New Mexico Environment Department's resource protection division, calls the newest calculation a "first-order estimate" based on new data from Air Force monitoring wells.

Davis says that no one will really know how large the spill is until it has been remediated. "It is not knowable," he says.

Davis is confident the spill can be cleaned up, no matter how large. Officials say that while the fuel threatens groundwater, officials have said it poses no threat to people living above the plume.

"The bottom line is this ... we take it very seriously," Davis said.

"There is really no way to carefully measure how much fuel is in the ground," Kirtland spokeswoman Marie Vanover, who does not dispute the new estimate, says.

"What's important here, as far as the Air Force is concerned, is that regardless of the amount of fuel in the ground we are committed to two things: that the water stays safe and to continue our remediation efforts."

Following the Kirtland incident, the Air Force, under pressure from the Environment Department, has cast an ever-wider net of monitoring wells, trying to figure out how far the fuel has spread.

Davis said officials still believe no contamination will reach city wells for at least five years. He said the Air Force has removed about 400,000 gallons and he hopes broader remediation targeting the largest concentration of the spill can begin this summer.

.

Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)