Duke plant spill leaks fuel oil into Ohio River

CINCINNATI — Thousands of gallons of diesel fuel spilled out onto the Ohio River after an incident at a power plant early Tuesday.

The Coast Guard said it estimated about 8,000 gallons of fuel spilled out from Duke Energy’s W.C. Beckjord power station outside of Cincinnati.

The spill was first reported at about 12:20 a.m. Tuesday. The plant is about 20 miles southeast but upstream of Cincinnati.


Duke Energy later released a statement saying the spill happened at about 11:15 p.m. Monday.

The company said the spill happened during a routine transfer of fuel oil. Duke estimated about 5,000 gallons was discharged into the river. Crews were able to stop the release by 11:30 p.m.

Duke said it notified local, state and environmental agencies promptly to take action.

“We notified state and local authorities of the incident and have been working with them throughout the overnight hours,” Chuck Whitlock, Duke Energy president of Midwest Commercial Generation and vice president of gas operations, said in a release. “We have cleanup crews on site that are identifying the appropriate actions that will be needed to remediate.”

The Coast Guard said it established a safety zone on the river to assess the spill and launch cleanup operations. A portion of the river near the spill was closed to vessel traffic for about a 15-mile stretch of the waterway.

Duke Energy assumed responsibility for the cleanup and Coast Guard officials said a spill response organization has been contacted to begin operations.

The Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency said the spill happened when a secondary containment unit failed to contain the fuel when it was released due to an open valve.

Officials said the fuel ran down a hill before entering the river.

HCEMA officials said Coast Guard crews could detect a sheen and detect a diesel odor for about 1 to 2 miles downstream of the facility.

Officials said the Clean Harbors cleanup organization dispatched three boats to recover the fuel.

An official said about 2,000 feet of oil containment equipment was deployed. Several agencies have also been dispatched to the scene to investigate the spill.

Officials said the three Cincinnati Waterworks and Northern Kentucky Waterworks intakes have been closed.

Waterworks officials said water quality scientists are monitoring the river, along with the Northern Kentucky Water District, to determine whether the water is safe. Workers said the agencies will continue to take water samples until the threat is determined to be gone.

The Clermont County Water Resources Department also implemented a contingency plan in response to the spill. Officials said the department shut down some wells in the Pierce-Union-Batavia well fields that had the most potential to be affected.

Lyle Bloom, Director of Utilities at the department, said the agency is operating only wells that have no potential to be impacted by the spill.

“This is a precautionary measure,” Bloom said in a release. “We do not expect the well field to be impacted by the diesel spill. The diesel fuel will remain along the water surface and should not adversely impact the aquifer.”

Tony Parrott, head of Greater Cincinnati Water Works, said the department was notified of the spill just after midnight.

Parrott said crews shut down the Ohio River intakes quickly so none of the spill was taken in. He said they expected the spill would arrive at the waterworks at about 7 a.m.

Parrott said the department’s reserves were near capacity and they will be able to operate with the intakes closed for some time. The department is expect to keep the intakes closed for as long as it takes for the spill to completely pass.

Parrott said the agency does have the capacity to feed active carbon into the water supply to handle the emergency if they are forced to open the intakes.

The Beckjord station has the capacity to put out 1,124 megawatts but Duke Energy said is a “nominal 862-megawatt” facility with six coal/steam units. It is located in New Richmond.

The station was first commercially operation in June 1952.

According to Duke Energy’s website, the plant is expected to be retired on Jan. 1, 2015. The company said EPA regulations would require cost-prohibitive upgrades and retrofits to the plant to continue operation.