One of the largest crude oil spills in Tennessee history took place last week, and oil just missed the state’s largest aquifer.
The pipeline, which stretches for roughly 1,000 miles, burst on June 29, leaking more than 200,000 gallons of crude oil into the rural town of Henderson. The leak equated to roughly 4,800 barrels of oil that were dumped into Chester County, making it the second-largest oil spill in Tennessee history, according to the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Materials Administration (PHMSA).
Officials with the PHMSA said that the oil spill flowed into a creek that leads to the South Forked Deer River, which flows into Tennessee’s largest aquifer, the Memphis Sand Aquifer.
Sarah Houston, executive director of Protect Our Aquifer, a Memphis-based environmental nonprofit, told WPLN: “If the oil spill was to continue flowing with the path of water, it could make its way into the South Forked Deer River and into the Memphis Sand Aquifer recharge zone. But at this stage, it does not appear to be impacting the aquifer at all.”
Emergency responders were able to dam the creek before oil could spill into the river and, consequently, the aquifer.
Information about how fast the flow of oil was shut down after the leak was discovered is not yet available. Experts and authorities suspect that the pipe was damaged by a worker with a lawn mower, according to WPLN.
Bill Caram, director of Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog group, told WPLN that the pipe had to have been above ground for a mower to do significant damage.
“I really have a hard time imagining that a mower could damage it to this degree without that pipeline being exposed or at least extremely close to the surface,” Caram said.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) is aiding in the clean-up of the oil and said that no advisories about being in contact with the water have been issued.
“It couldn’t be more important to keep our water safe from the hazards of pipelines,” Caram said in a statement. “Safety regulators need to require operators to maintain a safe depth of cover on all their pipelines, especially those that could impact our treasured sources of water.”
The pipeline, which starts in Texas and goes through eight states is owned by the Mid-Valley Pipeline Company, which also had the state’s largest crude oil spill, an approximately 357,000-gallon spill in Clarksville in 1988, according to PHMSA data, WPLN reported.
Thousands of oil spills happen in U.S. waters every year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. One very large spill took place on the California coast in October of last year when an estimated 126,000 gallons of oil spilled in the Huntington Beach area.
Newsweek reached out to the Pipeline Safety Trust for additional comment.
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