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Clean up of oil spill begins in Northern Iowa

Northern Iowa oil spill reportedly causes no ground water contamination. Contributed Photo

By Carter Howe

A diesel pipeline near Mason City in Northern Iowa spilled 46,830 gallons of diesel fuel on Jan. 25, according to company estimates. Magellan Midstream Partners, the owner and operator of the pipeline, originally estimated 138,600 gallons had spilled in order to ensure an effective response, but has since downgraded their estimate after the pipeline was refilled in order to resume operations, the Des Moines Register reported. The cause of leak is currently unknown though according to Jeff Vansteenburg, a Field Office Supervisor for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), “This leak is not the result of excavation as is often the case with pipeline ruptures.”

The cleanup is currently going smoothly, according to Vansteenburg. All of the liquid diesel fuel has been pumped up and the cleanup crew is currently working on removing contaminated soil and recovering the affected area.

“Right now they’re still removing soil. I think we’re looking at maybe they will be hopefully finishing up by next week. After the soil is removed they’ll come in with clean fill material they’ll put that back in…and as final cover they’ll add black dirt back on,” Vansteenburg said.

Pipelines as a means of transporting petroleum and natural gas have become a contentious issue in recent years as large-scale projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline have been proposed. In recent months in particular, high-profile protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline drew attention to the carbon emissions from oil and natural gas that pipelines facilitate and the potential damage to nearby groundwater. While the Obama administration decided not to further pursue completion of both the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, President Donald Trump recently signed executive orders to revive the projects.

Vansteenburg also said that there are no reports of groundwater contamination and that the cleanup crew has been working quickly to prevent potential contamination. Frozen ground is believed to have also worked in the favor of preventing water contamination.

“They’ve started working down in the soil layer. In some areas it was only 6 to 12 inches. In other places they kept going until they got down there, probably 4 to 6 feet down, so the idea is to get all of it out as fast as it can before it has an opportunity to migrate. There’s been no indication that there’s been any contamination to ground water,” Vansteenburg said. 

Vansteenburg and the DNR believe that Magellan are at this point following their legal obligations in regards to an oil spill, but Federal agencies have not yet finished investigating this incident.

“Magellan seems to have complied with all existing regulations. We have a rule that requires reporting of a hazardous incident within six hours, they complied with that,” Vansteenburg said. “They notified not only local law enforcement but the national response center and our offices within an hour. … We have a requirement that they need to do remediation, they need to do cleanup. They’re doing that. … As far as any of our rules go, there was no violation.”

Magellan will also be paying for the entire cost of the cleanup, “To the best of my knowledge they’re footing the entire bill,” Vansteenburg said. “As far as remediation cleanup, that’s all the responsibility of Magellan.”

A new section of pipe was welded in and the pipeline is currently transporting diesel again.

Despite the spill, Vansteenburg is confident that the cleanup will be completed thoroughly and effectively.

“We have people that are monitoring the situation I have people that are there almost every day. … At this point the cleanup continues to move forward and they’ve got a lot of men and materials out there. So they’re putting everything into it that they have available,” Vansteenburg said.

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