Stretch of Ohio River reopens after fuel oil spill

August 19, 2014 - 7:34 PM
Ohio River Oil Spill

Crews dock along the Ohio River as they head towards the Beckjord Power Plant, in New Richmond, Ohio, after an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 gallons of fuel oil spilled into the Ohio River, closing about a 15-mile section of the waterway southeast of Cincinnati, on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/The Cincinnati Enquirer, Amanda Rossmann)

CINCINNATI (AP) — A 15-mile stretch of the Ohio River closed after a fuel oil spill reopened to river traffic on Tuesday with some restrictions as containment and cleanup continued.

River traffic in that area must get Coast Guard clearance and maintain a safe speed, agency spokeswoman Lt. Katherine Cameron said. The area was closed to all traffic, including barges carrying commercial goods, after the spill from a Duke Energy power plant in New Richmond.

The spill at the W.C. Beckjord Station happened at about 11:15 p.m. Monday during a routine transfer of fuel oil from a larger tank to smaller ones and was stopped within about 15 minutes, Duke spokeswoman Sally Thelen said.

The spill at the plant 20 miles southeast of Cincinnati was considered medium-sized, a designation that applies to inland leaks between 1,000 and 10,000 gallons of oil, Cameron said. Authorities earlier estimated about 5,000 to 8,000 gallons of oil spilled, but the Coast Guard and Duke Energy later Tuesday lowered those estimates to up to 5,000 gallons.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday that the federal agency had taken the lead as on-scene coordinator and was directing the cleanup efforts being carried out by Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke Energy.

The federal and Ohio EPAs and the Coast Guard were working to minimize damage to the Ohio River and surrounding communities, U.S. EPA Incident Commander Steven Renninger said in a statement.

Oil-containment booms were deployed to contain and help collect the oil. Sheen from the oil extended approximately 12 miles from Duke's plant down the Ohio River toward Cincinnati.

The spill comes just weeks after about 400,000 people in Toledo were left without clean tap water when toxins produced by Lake Erie algae got into the city's water supply.

Ohio EPA spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer said the water quality alert system for the Ohio River was activated and all river drinking water intakes in Ohio were sealed off. The Greater Cincinnati Water Works shut down its water intakes around 12:50 a.m. and monitoring of the water entering the system prior to shut-down showed no contamination, Griesmer said.

"No problems with drinking water have been found," city of Cincinnati spokesman Rocky Merz said

Water quality scientists from the Greater Cincinnati Water Works continued monitoring the river in conjunction with the Northern Kentucky Water District.

Merz said a strong odor of oil reported along the river early Tuesday was dissipating as the day progressed.