Documents show Duke Energy plant had issues prior to oil spill - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Documents show Duke Energy plant had issues prior to oil spill

NEW RICHMOND, OH (FOX19) -

The oil spill that leaked thousands of gallons of diesel fuel into the Ohio River is believed to be caused by human error.

Crews raced to clean up the roughly 5,000 gallons of oil that spilled late Monday night at Duke Energy's W.C. Beckjord power plant.

So far, three recovery teams located along a 15-mile stretch of the river have picked up 10 percent of the spill, using vacuum trucks to remove the oil.

But,  EPA officials say most of the spill will have to evaporate because it's only a sheen on the surface.

"A sheen is not recoverable," said Steve Renninger of the Environmental Protection Agency. "We do have pockets of recoverable oil and we have contractors working to collect those."

Water in the Ohio River is also being checked for contamination.

Jerry Ward, who lives just a few miles west of the plant, won't let his dog Chloe take her daily swim until he knows for sure it's safe after what he saw.

"We smelled some of it, and you could see like three different streams of it going down the river," Ward said.

Duke Energy says the spill lasted for only 10 to 15 minutes before they were able to stop it. It will still take several days to clean up.

"We have two large tanks and we were taking them and transferring them to two smaller tanks," said Duke Energy Communications Manager Sally Thelen. "We were doing our daily business out here, conducting work like we normally do and in that transfer, we did have an issue," she added.

But, in its life span, the W.C. Beckjord power plant has seen more issues that just this spill.

FOX19 Investigates has learned Duke Energy's permits allow the release of bi-products of coal from its plants into ash ponds.  Those ash ponds allow solids to settle in the bottom, and oil and grease to be skimmed off before the wastewater leaves the ponds and goes into the water.

FOX19 has learned an EPA inspection revealed the ash ponds at the plant could be considered in "poor" condition, and created a possible "significant" hazard.  The report says there were "drive-by inspections," sinkholes, animal burrows and much more.  If the ponds were to fail, water supplies could be affected along with the release of hazardous waste, leading to that "significant" hazard rating.

In April 2010, Duke Energy responded to the EPA's 2010-issued report saying they would fix and revise all of the EPA's recommendations.

In the meantime, time is running out for the power plant as it's slated to close in January 2015.

"It's got a very small footprint.  That has not enable us to make a lot of environmental upgrades to it like you would see in some of the larger footprint coal plants.  As a result of that, it's really, what we call, nearing the end of its useful life," said Thelen.

FOX19 asked Thelen if the issues from the 2009 EPA inspection are connected to the plant's scheduled closure.  She said it has "100%" nothing to do with today's situation.  Plans to close the ash ponds are in the works, and Thelen says it's a lengthy process, but assures that all regulations and guidelines will be followed.

Copyright 2014 WXIX. All rights reserved.

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