GIRARD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A break in a pipeline between Coldwater and Tekonsha spilled about 8,400 gallons of gasoline, contaminating the soil of a field but so far not any water, as far as officials can tell.
British Petroleum, which owns the pipeline, confirmed Wednesday afternoon that the leak was completely contained.
“We’ve done our best to respond as quickly as possible and to control and mitigate the damage on the site,” Branch County Administrator/Controller Bud Norman said at a news conference alongside representatives from responding agencies.
The break in the BP pipeline happened about 90 yards to the west of Bell Road between Girard and Vincent Lake roads in Girard Township. It’s still not known what caused the break, but what we do know is that BP’s alarms sounded around 9:30 p.m. and the line was remotely shut down at 9:33 p.m. After that, officials said, BP sent crews to shut down additional valves that had to be closed manually. Crews then went to the break site.
“When it was flowing, it was visible, is how I can best put it,” Branch County Emergency Management Coordinator Tim Miner said. “Beyond that, everyone was at safe stand-off distances because of the flammability of it and we have to be cautious about vehicle and spark.”
A total of six nearby homes were evacuated. Everyone was allowed to go back before about 2 p.m. Wednesday. The break happened near the Potawatomie Campground, but officials said the gas line does not cross the border into the recreational area and that there were no campers around because it is closed for the season.
Bell Road was expected to remain closed to through traffic for at least a couple of days to give response crews room to work.
A number of agencies responded to the break, including Branch County Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Management, the Tekonsha Township Fire Department, Michigan State Police, BP, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
BP spokesman Cesar Rodriguez didn’t have a timeline for cleanup.
“Our crews have been there since last night. They’ve been working hard, working with our state and local officials … to make sure that this incident is mediated and make sure that it doesn’t occur again,” he said.
EGLE said it was testing wells, soil and air for contamination. The EPA was paying special attention to air monitoring. So far, no flights have spotted any gasoline sheen on any streams or ponds, said Eric Pohl from the EPA. He said regulators are setting up a plan to monitor three or four nearby drinking wells and ensure the water was safe.
“In the meantime, I believe BP is providing bottled water out of an abundance of caution to one residence that has the closest drinking water well to the spill location,” Pohl said.
He said BP was bringing in consultants to conduct advanced analysis of any contamination and EGLE and the EPA would be working to protect any nearby wetlands.
There was some spillage that stained the soil of an apparently empty farm field, Pohl said.
“…So we expect there to be some residual contamination there that’s to be still investigated in terms of the quantity,” Pohl said.
“We’ve mobilized heavy equipment to the area to make sure we remove any type of soil that has been contaminated,” Rodriguez noted.
He didn’t know yet how much dirt crews would end up having to move, nor did he know whether the field would be able to support crops next year.
Earlier in the day, neighbors told News 8 they could smell gasoline when they went outside.
“Charcoal lighter fluid is what it smells like to me, so it’s kind of a mix between gas and diesel, I would have to say,” neighbor Scott Palm said.
Miner, the emergency management coordinator, explained the gas vaporizes upon release, so the smell continued to ease over time.
“It vaporizes, so once it dissipates, it’s not strong,” he said. “In the beginning, yes, when it was coming out of the ground, it’s like if you spill gas in your garage and close the door, you’re really going to smell it. But when you open the door, it dissipates. So putting it that way, we have a very big garage door open right now.”
The 10-inch underground pipeline was installed in 1953 and runs from Whiting, Indiana, to River Rouge, near Detroit. That’s about 230 miles. Rodriguez said it moves about 3 million gallons of gasoline per day and is inspected every three to five years. He didn’t know how long it would take to get the pipeline operational again, but said that BP would make sure there was no abrupt change to the supply of gas to metro Detroit.
—News 8’s David Horak and Michael Oszust contributed to this report.