Oil Missing, Whereabouts a Mystery

Tuesday, April 3, 2018 @ 06:04 PM gHale

Dalles Dam in the state of Washington where 474 gallons of oil disappeared and no one knows where it went.

Four hundred seventy-four gallons of oil is missing and the Army Corps of Engineers thinks it could be in the Columbia River downstream of The Dalles Dam.

They think.

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Employees at the dam said the oil disappeared from a turbine that generates electricity from running water, but they don’t know where it went or when it went missing. It could have occurred anywhere from Feb. 7 to March 22.

There’s also a chance the spill ended up within the facility without entering the river, said Tom Conning, a corps spokesman. Staffers have not spotted any oil sheens, though it’s possible the oil simply mixed in with the moving river.

The Army Corps notifies the Columbia River fishing tribes, some environmental groups, as well as the state of Washington, when these spills occur. Sometimes the leak is as small as a tablespoon, sometimes it is a few hundred gallons.

If the oil is in the water, Conning said he didn’t know whether there would be any attempt to contain the oil.

“It probably depends on several different factors, but I don’t know the specific response,” Conning said.

Curt Hart, spokesman for the Washington Department of Ecology, said the oil would be near impossible to clean up, because it quickly disperses and then dissipates.

The turbine leaked a light mineral oil that would spread quickly over the surface of the water, suffocating life below it, Hart said.

Washington, which oversees The Dalles Dam, considers anything more than 25 gallons to be a significant amount of oil. Hart said 474 gallons is quite large, and while not catastrophic, any amount of oil in the river causes damage to fish and other life.

The state cannot demand the Corps pay a fine the way it would penalize a private company or public utility, because the Corps is under the military department and has sovereign immunity.

However, the state wishes the spills would stop.

“It happens with more frequency than we would like,” Hart said. “For us, our first goal is to prevent spills from happening in the first place. There’s really no oil spill that’s an acceptable oil spill.”

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