60 gallons of MTBE spill into groundwater | TahoeDailyTribune.com

60 gallons of MTBE spill into groundwater

by Andy Bourelle

Everything was going as planned Wednesday morning at the Meyers Shell service station. That is until 600 gallons of gasoline – likely containing more than 60 gallons of pure MTBE – leaked into the groundwater.

“It’s unfortunate, but it was an unforeseeable thing. It could happen to anyone,” said Mark Witters, operator of the Meyers Beacon. “It’s just another reason to get the MTBE out of our fuel.”

The Meyers Shell was in the process of completing environmental upgrades. Pressure tests had been completed – using 80 pounds of pressure – and the station was in its “last step” to be up and running again. Putting gas through the lines – at about 26 pounds of pressure – a pipe failed, releasing the gasoline into the ground.

The pipe was more than 10 years old but met state standards.

The El Dorado County Department of Environmental Protection was on site at the time, and cleanup began immediately.

The accident happened about at 9:30 a.m., and workers tore up the concrete, dug up the soil and worked until 11 p.m. Work continued Thursday.

“We’re really pleased Shell jumped right on it, and that the county was on site at the time,” said Lisa Dernbach, associate engineering geologist for the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.

However, Dernbach said, the initial cleanup likely won’t be able to contain the plume. Groundwater – and MTBE – moves quickly in Meyers, about 2 feet per day as opposed to probably less than a foot a day in South Lake Tahoe.

Groundwater in that area travels toward the Upper Truckee River. However, the South Tahoe Public Utility District is drilling a new well about 1,600 feet from the leak, which could pull the plume over.

The site where STPUD is drilling the well is in a location already contaminated by an MTBE plume coming from the Meyers Beacon. Two contaminated wells have been destroyed, and the new well was supposed to access a lower aquifer, protected from the contaminated one by an aquitard, which is a non-porous layer of clay that likely would protect the lower aquifer.

Whether the leak will contaminate the new well cannot yet be determined.

“When is this madness going to end?” said Rick Hydrick, water operations manager at STPUD. “This station was doing everything right, but that doesn’t stop MTBE from threatening more of our aquifers.”

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a gasoline additive comprising about 11 percent of gasoline used in California. It is considered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a possible cancer-causing agent.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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