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EPA: Most oil from fuel fire removed from Bear Creek

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Ricky Michaels with First Strike Environmental Co. works to clean up petroleum products in Bear Creek stemming from last week’s major fire at a fuel depot near downtown Medford. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality say most of the oil has been removed from local waterways.
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Environmental crews work to remove petroleum products from Bear Creek Monday originating from a major fire at a fuel depot last week near downtown Medford.
Unknown how much of 20,000 gallons of petroleum burned, and how much spilled

State and federal environmental officials have upped their estimate of how much petroleum was lost in last week’s Carson Pacific Pride fire to 20,000 gallons — an increase of 7,400 gallons from previous estimates — but said the majority of the oil that spilled into Bear Creek has been removed.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality said that most of the oil released into the creek and nearby waterways has been recovered.

According to EPA spokesman Bill Dunbar, the estimate of spilled oil increased to more than 20,000 gallons after cleanup crews inspected above-ground tanks containing gasoline, diesel and other petroleum products Monday and determined they were “down more.”

“More was lost than they originally thought,” Dunbar said.

According to an emailed statement from Carson and NEXGEN Logistics, which operates the Pacific Pride fuel depot in Medford, the company based its preliminary estimate on what was known to have been damaged “since we were prohibited access to the site at the time.”

Once allowed on site, NEXGEN revised the number “to include two partially loaded tank wagons and the results of actual measurements at the above-ground tanks,” the company stated.

“We have now amended this estimate to reflect actual volumes in all current estimates and reporting,” NEXGEN states. “We have worked closely with the DEQ and EPA to verify the amount of fuel and oil released and they agree we have reported the correct amount.”

Environmental cleanup contractors hired by NEXGEN have secured leaks on site, according to Dunbar.

“They’ve stemmed all of that,” Dunbar said.

Dunbar said it’s likely that much of the additional leaked fuel burned during the April 12 fire. The bulk of the petroleum in waterways is believed to have originated from dozens of barrels of machine oil stored in a warehouse that burned during the fire.

Dunbar said there’s no way to know how much of the petroleum that was lost spilled into waterways and how much of it went up in flames.

“It’s hard to know,” Dunbar said.

NEXGEN is funding the “significant response to the incident,” including all wildlife rescue and recovery efforts, according to the update.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists have so far observed no impacts to fish habitat in Bear Creek, including no impacts to spawning or juvenile salmon or steelhead.

State biologists are still watching for delayed impacts to fish and wildlife “such as future health, fitness and reproductive success of various species,” according to a joint press release issued Monday.

As of this week, small amounts of petroleum remain in soil and vegetation along the creek, but biologists have determined that removing the smaller oil deposits from streamside vegetation would damage habitats used by wildlife that includes nesting ducks and geese.

Officials say the oil deposits will gradually evaporate or migrate into the creek during high-water events. The deposits may cause visible sheens on the waterway for the next “several weeks to a few months.”

Some Canada geese and mallard ducks impacted by the spill are being treated by the nonprofit International Bird Rescue. State wildlife officials asked the public not to approach or pick up any oiled wildlife, but instead to call the nonprofit at 707-689-3944.

State officials also asked the public to stay at least 50 yards away from oiled areas near Hawthorne Park and the Bear Creek Greenway. Officials said the extra space avoids stress on wildlife and allows room for bird rescue teams to conduct their work.

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.