State: Driver intentionally dumped contaminated dirt near oil leak site

Shannon Marvel
Farm Forum

Officials believe a semi driver hauling hazardous material to and from the Keystone Pipeline leak site purposely dumped soil contaminated with crude oil on the side of a Marshall County road.

More than 5 cubic yards of contaminated soil was discovered Jan. 6 — one day after another semi hauling contaminated soil from the leak site was involved in a rollover, said Brian Walsh, environmental scientist manager for the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The dirt was dumped along 416th Avenue near its intersection with 117th Street, southwest of the leak site, according to information from the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources leak database.

Walsh said the weight of the dirt and its oil content are not yet known.

TransCanada, the company that owns the Keystone Pipeline, has contracted with SET Environmental of Illinois to oversee cleanup efforts at the leak site, Walsh said. He said SET has not been able to pin down what trucking company is responsible for dumping the soil in the ditch.

Walsh said SET officials believe the contaminated soil was dumped from a semi returning from taking a load to Clean Harbors Landfill in Sawyer, N.D. The landfill is about 220 miles away from the leak site.

The pipeline leak was discovered the morning of Nov. 16. It’s estimated that 210,000 gallons of crude oil leaked before the pipeline was shut down.

A preliminary report indicated that the pipe might have been damaged during construction in 2008. The investigation is ongoing.

Walsh said it’s suspected that the semi driver realized there was contaminated soil in his truck and emptied it before getting back to the leak site near Amherst.

“For whatever reason, they didn’t want to bring it back into the site and dumped it back in the ditch,” Walsh said.

Walsh said as many as 100 semis leave the site with contaminated loads each day.

Chad Tameling, a spokesman for SET, said the pile was discovered by workers from the cleanup site. A small pile of contaminated soil measuring about a quarter of a cubic yard was found at first, he said.

“Then, as we continued, we found another larger pile, approximately 5 cubic yards of material,” he said.

Tameling said workers were sent out to survey the entire route taken from the leak site to the landfill, looking for any other piles that might have been dumped. None were found, he said.

He said SET stopped cleanup and trucking activities after the contaminated soil was discovered and had meetings with the truck drivers’ managers to talk about the “dos and don’ts” of the job.

“As an additional quality control measure, we’ve stationed a person at the landfill to make sure that before (the drivers) leave the landfill there are no residuals that are in their truck. If there are, we flag them down and reroute them back to the landfill,” Tameling said.

A half-ton of contaminated soil spilled as a result of the rollover Jan. 5, which authorities believe was caused by distracted driving. According to the South Dakota Highway Patrol report, the driver was distracted by an electronic device, drifted to the wrong side of the road, overcorrected and tipped.

Charges are pending against the driver, William Connors, 37, of Show Low, Ariz.

Connors was working for Pinky’s Aggregates of Rollete, N.D. Tameling said Connors is no longer working on the oil cleanup project. Whether he keeps his job is up to Pinky’s Aggregates, Tameling said.

The areas where soil was dumped in the ditch have been cleaned up. Meanwhile, results from samples taken at the rollover site showed levels of hazardous materials above the state’s allowed limits, said Walsh, who was at the site on Jan. 9.

“They scraped it clean, then took samples underneath where they cleaned it up and some of the data came back above our soil clean up standard, so they were preparing to conduct some investigations to figure that out.

“In terms of major soil excavation, they’re targeting the second week of February to be finished,” Walsh said.

Once the contaminated soil has been removed, it will be taken to the North Dakota landfill.

“Then they’ll complete the backfilling,” Walsh said.

Remediation of the land affected by the crude oil spill will begin in spring, then the state will move into a ground water investigation phase that involves installing wells to see what affects the spill had to shallow, underground water sources in the area, Walsh said.

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