Broken pipeline in Decatur causes major fuel leak into St. Marys River

Staff Writer

    A group of 118 people are working to remove from the St. Marys River in Decatur almost 8,200 gallons of jet fuel that leaked on Friday from an underground pipeline running through the city and owned by Buckeye Pipe Line Co.
    Marty White, the public information officer for the Buckeye firm, said Sunday the workers will be here for an unknown number of days because the river level is high due to rain that fell from Friday through Sunday. Work is proceeding around the clock to not only remove the fuel, but also clean up and correct any damage to the local environment.
    The process, he said, is to suck up water and fuel from the river, place it into portable holding tanks, then let the fuel (which is lighter than water) float on the surface so it can be skimmed off and placed in tanker trucks to be hauled away. The remaining water will also be disposed of safely, White added.
    The 118 people, who are staying in local motels and also in Fort Wayne, include 30 Buckeye employees and some 70 workers from contract companies.
    On top of that, said White, there are inspectors here every day from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to observe the cleanup.
    He said the exact nature of what Buckeye calls "a pipeline failure" is not known because the pipeline is buried and is being dug up to see what happened and to make repairs. White indicated the pipeline might be 50 or 60 years old.
    The workers are operating at three sites with access to the river: the city's mulch location beside Riverside Park, a spot along Monmouth Road at the edge of Decatur, and a bridge on C.R. 900N. Along Monmouth Road, the smell of fuel was quite evident Sunday morning.
    White said the pipeline runs from Lima, Ohio, through Decatur to Huntington, with the jet fuel involved in this incident destined to go by another pipeline to Indianapolis.
    No one was injured in the leak and no fire occurred. The leak was discovered by the Buckeye firm at 5:17 p.m. Friday, causing the line to be closed immediately, according to a public statement issued by the company.
    Two men who work at Decatur's sewage treatment plant said the plant, perhaps a half-mile from the Monmouth Road fuel reclamation and remediation site, was not affected by the leak.
    The leaked 8,190 gallons equals 195 barrels of fuel, said White.
    Buckeye is also working with local officials and using the Adams County Sheriff's Department as its contact point for the public.
    "Buckeye and its employees are an integral part of the local communities in which we operate. Our primary concerns are protecting the safety of the public and the environment. The pipeline will be shut down until it is repaired and deemed safe to return to service," says the Buckeye announcement.
    Buckeye Pipe Line Co. is based in Pennsylvania, but its corporate headquarters is in Houston, Texas.