Pa. spill is gasoline, officials say; no word on quantity or source [updated]

An environmental cleanup crew works to remove fuel from a spill in Darby Creek in Tinicum Township, Pennsylvania, near the Philadelphia International Airport. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

An environmental cleanup crew works to remove fuel from a spill in Darby Creek in Tinicum Township, Pennsylvania, near the Philadelphia International Airport. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Updated: 6 p.m. Friday, June 22

Officials investigating a pipeline spill into a creek near Philadelphia have identified the material as gasoline, but they said Friday afternoon they didn’t know the source or how much had leaked.

Workers from several state and federal agencies — as well as the pipeline company Sunoco — were on the bank of Darby Creek in Delaware County near Philadelphia International Airport for a third day Friday, maintaining a protective boom to keep the fuel from spreading and trying to determine where the spill was coming from, officials said.

“The gasoline leaking into the creek is being contained with absorbent boom, but there are no estimates on quantity,” said Neil Shader, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. “Right now, the impacts from the leak appear to be limited to the sheen observed on the water.”

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Shader said there are multiple pipelines in the area and that Sunoco is testing to see if one of its pipelines is the source of the leak. Once the leaking pipeline has been identified, officials will then work on the cause of the leak. All the nearby pipelines have been shut down, Shader said.

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission confirmed that the PUC is also involved, and that a source for the leak had not yet been identified.

Lamar Gore, manager of the adjacent John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, said the spill hadn’t yet spread to the preserve, but it could be threatened because the gasoline could be driven up the tidal creek which flows through the preserve.

Gore said the gasoline was contained so far by booms installed on the water at the site of the spill but that he was concerned about the possibility that the material might spread.

“It’s protected habitat, you could have some negative impacts,” he said.

Sunoco said it too was working to identify the source of the spill.

“Our investigations continue, but there is nothing as of today that indicates the source is our pipeline,” said Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for Sunoco’s parent company, Energy Transfer Partners.

In 2005, Sunoco agreed to pay $3.6 million to settle a federal government lawsuit after a massive 192,000-gallon oil spill in the John Heinz refuge five years earlier. Since early 2017, Sunoco has experienced dozens of drilling fluid spills during the construction of its Mariner East pipelines across Pennsylvania, prompting judges and regulators to halt the project three times.

In January, the DEP fined Sunoco $12.6 million for what it said were “egregious” environmental violations.

Last week, the PUC upheld a judge’s order stopping construction in one Chester County township because of concerns about public safety.

David Micallef, a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard, said the investigation was continuing, but officials had not determined how much material escaped or its source.

He said the Coast Guard is focused on preventing environmental impact by deploying booms on the water around the site of the spill. “The sheen is contained at the point of release into Darby Creek,” he said. “It’s not going anywhere else.”

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