A decades-old jet fuel spill threatening Albuquerque's water supply could be as large as 24 million gallons, or twice the size of the oil spill from the Exxon Valdez, New Mexico environment officials acknowledged Tuesday.
Officials previously estimated the spill from Kirtland Air Force Base to be about 8 million gallons. But state geologist William Moats, who made the original calculations, recently estimated the spill could be up to three times larger.
By comparison, the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil when it ran aground in Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1989.
Jim Davis, head of the New Mexico Environment Department's resource protection division, calls the newest calculation a "first-order estimate" based on new data from Air Force monitoring wells. He emphasized that the calculations have not been reviewed, and said no one will really know how large the spill is until it has been remediated.
"It is not knowable," Davis said.
But he said he is confident the spill can be cleaned up, no matter how large. And while the fuel threatens groundwater, officials have said it poses no threat to people living above the plume.
"The bottom line is this ... we take it very seriously," Davis said. "We are pushing the Air Force and we are going to stay on top of it until it is fixed."
Kirtland spokeswoman Marie Vanover did not dispute the new estimate.
"There is really no way to carefully measure how much fuel is in the ground," she said. "What's important here, as far as the Air Force is concerned, is that regardless of the amount of fuel in the ground we are committed to two things: that the water stays safe and to continue our remediation efforts."
The fuel came from what officials now believe was a 40-year leak from underground pipes at a Kirtland aircraft fuel loading facility.
The leak was discovered in 1999. In 2007, Air Force investigations revealed the fuel had reached the water table and was moving off the Air Force base, beneath the neighborhoods of southeast Albuquerque and toward the city's water wells.
Since then, the Air Force, under pressure from the Environment Department, has cast an ever-wider net of monitoring wells, trying to figure out how far the fuel has spread.
Davis said officials still believe no contamination will reach city wells for at least five years. He said the Air Force has removed about 400,000 gallons and he hopes broader remediation targeting the largest concentration of the spill can begin this summer.
Environmental activists planned to raise the issue Wednesday at an Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Board meeting.
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The lawsuit, filed last week in federal court by the Waterkeeper Alliance and several Gulf Coast Waterkeeper organisations, aims to halt the spill and to make public the facts of the company's seven-year response and recovery operation. The lawsuit claims that the damaged operation has been leaking several hundred gallons per day into the Gulf of Mexico.
The spill is one of several identified in a new Gulf monitoring report released on 2nd February 2012 by watchdog groups including SkyTruth, SouthWings, Lower Mississippi Riverkeepers and the Waterkeepers Alliance.
Part of the evidence presented in the course of the lawsuit will come from satellite images, research by SkyTruth and aerial observations by SouthWings.
The Waterkeeper Alliance and its local Waterkeeper organisations say the spill started after an undersea landslide in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan in 2004. An offshore platform and 28 wells were damaged and, since then, Taylor has yet to stop the daily flow of oil from the site.
A report released this week by the Gulf Monitoring Consortium, a partnership between Waterkeeper Alliance, SkyTruth, and SouthWings, investigates several spills in the Gulf (including the Taylor Spill) and highlights numerous deficiencies in the reporting and response process.
I wonder how much of this ended up on the Deep Water Horizon account.
Lakeview Gusher Number One
Drilling at Lakeview Number One well was started by the Lakeview Oil Company on 1 January 1909. As the drilling continued and only natural gas was found, the Lakeview Company partnered with Union Oil Company which wanted to build storage tanks on Lakeview property.
The gusher began on 14 March 1910, as the drill bit reached 2,440 ft (740 m).
This was an immense out-of-control pressurized oil well in the Midway-Sunset Oil Field in Kern County, California, resulting in what is regarded as one of the largest oil spills in history, lasting 18 months and releasing 9 million barrels of crude oil.
The initial daily flow from the gusher was 18,800 barrels (2,990 m3), peaking at approximately 90,000 barrels (14,000 m3), creating a downhill running river of crude oil from the well site, while crews rushed to contain it with a system of improvised sand bag dams and dikes. During its 18-month duration, the gusher never caught fire.
In what was one of the largest oil reserves in America, pressure built to an extreme due to the quantity of crude oil in the area. When drilling in the area began, primarily by the Lakeview Oil Company, it was expected to find natural gas and a small amount of crude oil; but there was a large blowout, resulting in an overload of storage tanks.
The well casing is a steel pipe-liner that contains oil as it is pumped from the well. During drilling, the casing also guides the drill bit and drive shaft in a roughly straight line. Pressure blew at least part of the casing out, along with the oil.
Finally, on Sept. 9, 1911, 544 days after the well blew in, the Lakeview gusher caved at the bottom and died as suddenly as it was born. It had produced an estimated 9 million barrels of oil, a record for the time. More than 4 million barrels had been saved.
Union Oil Co. dug a 100-foot shaft to find the top of the well's casing, then proceeded to redrill, putting the well on the pump in January 1913. The once-mighty well produced 30 barrels of oil a day for a while, then died. In the 1930s, General Petroleum Corp., later Mobil Oil Co., redrilled the Lakeview gusher, and, failing to produce oil, abandoned it.
As oil flowed, the price of crude oil dropped from $1 a barrel to 10 cents a barrel.
One enterprising company sized up the situation, built its own earthen reservoirs near Bakersfield, and bought all the cheap oil it could get, storing it for the day when the price would rise.
The site of the Lakeview oil geyser is located about a half-mile (800 m) east of the Taft-Maricopa Highway, State Route 33, and is marked by a Caltrans guide sign and a bronze plaque, and is designated as California Historical Landmark number 485
Stratified, congealed crude oil, in March 2008, 100 ft (30 m) from the well. Image shows an area about 10 in (250 mm) across.
Dedicatory plaque at the site of the Lakeview Gusher, northeast of Maricopa, California.
From Wikipedia.com and BILL RINTOUL Oil columnist, Bakersfield Californian