Officials said there's no health risk resulting from the 900 barrels of crude oil that spilled in unincorporated Mokena on Nov. 20, but they acknowledged that more information could have been given to the public over the weekend.
The leak of crude oil, destined for Superior, WI, was discovered at about 1 p.m. after someone from the Pipefitters Local Union 597 on 187th Street and Wolf Road notified Mokena Police about a noxious odor.
It didn't take long to determine that the odor was coming from the BP Oil farm a few blocks to the north in unincorporated Mokena.
According to Mokena Fire Protection District Chief Howard Stephens, Mokena police first approached BP tank farm officials to inquire about a potential problem. At that time, BP revealed that a leak had just been detected.
At first it was thought to be about 200 barrels of oil, but it turned out to be a lot more. Each barrel contains 42 gallons of oil. The total amount of spilled oil has been calculated at 900 barrels; that means 37,800 gallons of oil leaked into the berms and dikes at the terminal.
Mokena Police took the initiative to notify the Mokena Fire Protection District, which then set up a command post at the site. Stephens said BP never notified the Fire District.
"That's not protocol," he said.
Mokena Police Commander Dan Rankovich said the department received about "half a dozen" complaints about the odor. Village Administrator John Downs said a handful of related calls came in at the village on Tuesday as well.
"We were busy at the site. This doesn't happen every day," Stephens said.
While attempting to grapple with the potential for crisis, Stephens said, he mentioned to one of the Mokena police officers that maybe some information should be released on the accident, but that never happened. Rankovich said nothing was sent out about the accident.
"In retrospect," Stephens said, "I should have put something out. I had a statement prepared for the Lincoln-Way (911 dispatch) and at the fire house if anybody called."
Harold Damron, director of the Will County Emergency Services Disaster Agency, said because odor complaints are not particularly uncommon around these types of facilities, it's not routine to alert the public or send out press releases. The only calls Damron received about the accident came from Patch and the energy division of Bloomberg News, a business-focused online publication.
Despite heavy plant activity—substantial earth-moving equipment and digging easily visible from Wolf Road—no agency alerted the community about the situation. No information was posted on the village websites for Mokena or Orland Park, and none of the responding agencies sent a release to let the community know the odor they might have noticed came from an oil spill that was under control.
Damron said Enbridge notified the appropriate oversight agencies, and he followed up with calls to the Illinois EPA, the US EPA, the Will County Sheriff's Department and the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety.
The Orland Fire Protection District was contacted about the spill both by BP and by the Mokena Fire District, and sent advisors to help determine the threat level. Once there, they determined the threat was controlled and contained, Orland Fire Chief Ken Brucki said Monday.
Damron said the Will County Health Department was contacted in case any related issues come up. However, it's not routine practice to alert the public about an odor problem unless there is a health risk.
The lack of communication, however, left the public to shape its own scenario. The smell, while it reportedly dissipated substantially within a few hours, nevertheless lingered. Damron said he'd received no complaints about people suffering from headaches due to the noxious fumes, but Patch readers have complained in comments that they had experienced headaches. Others noted frustration over the lack of official communication.
Comments left on Patch:
- "My wife and I live just across I-80 from the site and for the last couple of days we have had some pretty bad headaches for no apparent reason, I wonder if this may have been the cause or just an ironic causal relationship…"
- "All day long I could smell that crude oil smell - as far away as Route 30 and LaGrange. I thought there was something wrong with my car because it was everywhere I went. It gave me a headache smelling that stink all day. And not a word to the community from the Village."
- "I get a "robo call" from "the Mayor" about his partner Peloquin but the entire community is left in the dark about this?"
- "I agree. The first I've heard about this is this morning, and I live less than a mile from the facility. Scary, and pretty disturbing that there wasn't more of an information release to the community!"
The lack of communication left people who got wind of the accident wondering if the leak had seeped into the groundwater, including wells and aquifers, or if it had flowed into Marley Creek, which is located a bit north of the tank farm. Marley Creek is a tributary to the Hickory Creek Watershed.
Maggie Carlson of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency said the state EPA investigated the incident, and preliminary results show that the oil was contained on the site and stopped.
"Our concern is if there is a risk of getting into the state waterways," she said, though there's currently no evidence that happened.
The tank farm is located on property that has a clay base and it's flat. These natural geologic factors work together to prevent seepage into the aquifers. Still, it depends on the lay of the land—its divots and depressions—as to whether the oil would find its way toward a low-lying spring or creek.
Derek O'Sullivan, Will County stormwater director, said that particular parcel is thick with clay and that BP Oil had laid additional clay as a backup to protect the environment in case of a spill.
"The oil should be captured surfacely," he said.
The pipeline that runs through the BP Oil tank farm is owned by Enbridge, Inc., of Calgary. Enbridge posted a notice on its website last week about the spill. Enbridge spokesman Larry Springer said there was a definite leak of 37,800 gallons of crude oil. It came from an "infrequently used Engridge tankage line" on Nov. 21, said Springer.
The leak was contained to a dike that surrounds the tank. The surface oil has been sopped up, but crews are currently working to collect the drenched soil and clay that surrounds the dike.
State of Cleanup
While the soil continues to be collected, the main focus of attention is monitoring the situation for volatile organic compounds.
There are detection monitors along the perimeter of the facility, including one that faces the neighboring subdivision on the northwest edge of the plant near Parkview Christian Church at Wolf Road and 183rd Street, he said. So far, there has been "zero" evidence of volatile chemical releases in the air.
The monitors are set to detect releases of hydrocarbons, benzene, hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide, according to Springer. In addition, the crews are using standard Lower Explosion Limits monitors to detect the presence of combustible gas or vapor.
Damron said Enbridge is conducting ongoing tests on groundwater supplies. There's only two wells out there, and they're on the site. They feed the water supply to the buildings and office on the BP tank farm. There's plenty of oversight continuing as the cleanup continues.