The Clean Up|
August 24 1994, Dawn broke over the O’Day Branch as workers applied a temporary patch to the Conoco Pipeline. It would be a bitter 9 years & 11 months before the creek was fully cleaned of the Petroleum Contamination. During this time Conoco’s contractors performed 8 official remediation/clean up attempts and one illegal attempt. Worth mentioning is the 2 years of Bioremediation “micro bugs” application and 10 years of seasonal floods.
Except for the first and last remediation efforts, all clean up attempts were tailored to collect a mere 40 gallons of Aviation fuel.
Ten years to clean the claimed amount of 40 gallons of Aviation Fuel residue? This event disturbingly illustrates the power of oil corporations and their puppet strings over the Office of Pipeline Safety & DOT. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Missouri Department of Regulations and our elected politicians.
Initial (First) Spill Remediation Attempt:
Workers arrived before daylight and worked around the clock for two weeks. Heavy equipment was set in motion to construct twenty gravel dams to trap fuel into working sections. Aviation fuel still trapped above the surface gravel was pumped into trucks or barrels.
Water trucks were then brought in and surface gravel was hosed down and 38,000 gallons of the water/fuel mixture was collected. Dead fish were collected & bagged. Conoco eventually paid a fine for these fish.
At the spill site, leaking Aviation Fuel had undercut the stream bank. The resulting contaminated soil was collected and hauled away. Corroded pipeline was replaced & taken away. During this process, repair workers discovered a second leak in the adjacent soy bean field. This pipeline section was also replaced and the contaminated soil hauled away.
No effort was made to clean or even discover how much fuel had settled under the dry sections of steam bed. Nevertheless, Conoco drove away claiming the O'Day Branch was now clean.
Further Remediation Attempts:
Six more remediation attempts were attempted between the first and final attempts. Some attempts were mere raking of the surface gravel and others were more extensive. Dead fish were collected and disposed of before the Missouri Department of Conversation arrived on site and leveled fines.
Many of the oil company workers were amazed by the amount of Aviation Fuel that was brought to the surface during these clean up attempts. For even the “lower level” oil company workers had been told that only "40 gallons" remained in the creek.
It should be noted that one hydrologist had calculated that as much as 15,000 gallons of Aviation fuel had sunk into the gravel & soil under the stream bed.
Illegal Remediation Attempt:
After several remediation attempts, it became apparent to Conoco that the "problem" was not going to wash away. Apparently dismayed by this fact, Conoco attempted an illegal clean up to fix their problem.
This solution involved hiring an out of state contractor to rake the gravel bottom of the stream, and thereby releasing the fuel to wash away down stream. (problem fixed)
This Conoco contractor was not required to collect any fuel or install any flotation booms as the whole point of this operation was to make the Aviation fuel "disappear".
This operation was begun without permission of the land owner, Kim Ryba or informing the Missouri Department of Natural Resources who had monitored the other remediation attempts.
Kim Ryba, while feeding her horses, discovered and stopped the operation. The O’Day Branch stream bed had been churned up and black fuel was free flowing downstream. MDNR and Conoco soon arrived on site and floatation booms were placed across the stream in a futile attempt to control the released Jet fuel.
Conoco was never fined for their illegal remediation attempt or for the fish kill that resulted in their criminal action.
For two years Conoco attempted Bioremediation on the spill site. The EPA's "A Citizen's Guide to Bioremediation" explains that bioremediation is a treatment process that use naturally occurring microorganisms to break down or degrade hazardous substances into less toxic or non toxic substances.
Both the MDNR and the office of the Attorney General of Missouri, approved Conoco's use of this process because Bioremediation was less expensive than the complete removal of contaminated gravel and soils. In fact, both groups went out of their way to help the oil giant whenever possible.
Never the less after two years, the Bioremediation process proved to be a total failure in the O'Day Branch.
Natural Remediation: Floods
The O'Day Branch Creek meanders through an oval shaped valley that channels rain water into savage seasonal floods. It is truly amazing that ten years of fall & spring flooding did not scour all traces of petroleum contamination from the stream.
This was the expectation, as a impotent MDNR ordered it's investigation closed and Oil Company released from further responsibility. MDNR supervisors in fact, finally explained to Kim Ryba that flooding was how they expected the stream to get cleaned, even though hydrocarbon levels far exceeded MDNR's own standards for spill remediation.
MDNR's stance on natural remediation was further surprising because the O'Day flowed into the adjoining 6000 acre wildlife preserve!
Never the less, after ten years of floods, the stream gravel was washed clean down to a depth of three feet. However 2001 tests of stream bed samples demonstrated that below the three foot level, the hydrocarbon levels in some locations were 3000 times greater than DNR's standard remediation levels.
The final remediation of the O'Day was in the summer of 2004. The parties involved finally conceded to Kim Ryba's demand that the stream be scraped down to bedrock.
Contractors from Conoco-Phillips removed 48 dump truck loads of contaminated soil and gravel! Nine years and eleven months after the leak, the O'Day as it runs through Kim Ryba's pastures was finally clean.
However this final remediation attempt made no effort to clean or test the 10 years of petroleum contamination that migrated from Kim Ryba’s property into the adjoining Wildlife Area and eventually into the Mississippi River via Dardenne Creek.