Clean up began Tuesday for spill of a more than 16,000 gallons of red diesel leaked from an oil field frac tank into a Victoria County creek.
Investigators think the leak could have a significant environmental impact on Dry Creek, the surrounding area and on the private wells of several residents, County Judge Ben Zeller said in an on-site news conference Tuesday.
“Top priority is the health and safety of our local residents and also of our water and land,” he said.
The cause of the leak was not known Tuesday, but Zeller said a preliminary investigation indicates the leakage was accidental in nature and originated from a nearby oil facility owned by Atlas Oil Company, located on Bob White Road.
Nearly 16,436 gallons of the frac tank’s 16,800-gallon capacity seeped into the creek from the Atlas Oil Company facility, said Tiffany Young, a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokeswoman.
Red diesel fuel is used for engines in off-road vehicles, tractors and bulldozers — specifically those used on farms and construction sites. In addition to the red color, the diesel is taxed differently and can be purchased in larger quantities from certain providers.
Sheriff’s office officials received a call about the leakage from a concerned resident in the area Sunday evening. At that time, Zeller said Atlas Oil Company had notified the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality of the spill.
At 1:30 p.m. on Monday, TCEQ officials arrived to the scene to survey the damage and determined the spill was more significant than originally indicated, Zeller said.
“This is the largest spill that I can remember in my 13-year career here,” said Rick McBrayer, emergency management coordinator for the county and city of Victoria. “We see 300 to 400 gallon spills occasionally, but nothing like this.”
Atlas Oil has hired two remediary companies to help clean up the creek and surrounding areas, according to Jeff Hunter, the company’s director of marketing. Young confirmed Miller Environmental Services and Lone Star HAZMAT Response were on the scene Tuesday.
Hunter was not able to answer further questions about the spill and said the company is working with local agencies to mitigate the impact. Other local, state and federal officials set up on Old Goliad Road near the creek to assess the extent of the damage.
Investigators think the discharge from the tank entered a waterway to Dry Creek through a storm drainage system in the area around Old Goliad and Bob White roads, said McBrayer said. The affected creek is about a half-mile from the Atlas Oil facility.
“Preliminary findings are that there will be significant effects on wildlife and drinking water on both sides of Loop 463 in this area,” McBrayer said in a county news release.
The diesel had gone down the creek for at least a mile before responders halted the flow with berms and contained the spill to just Dry Creek, McBrayer said.
“Our state partners and the hazmat crews out here feel very confident they have located the affected area in Dry Creek and firmed up the area,” McBrayer said.
The creek water in this stretch took on a deep-red color as the less-dense red diesel floated to the water’s surface. Left untouched, diesel could flow through Dry Creek and into the Guadalupe River, which feeds into the San Antonio Bay.
By 5 p.m., 38,000 gallons of contaminated water had been removed from the creek, McBrayer said. After authorities finish pumping most of the affected waters, they will then extract soil in areas where the diesel could’ve seeped in.
“It already looks much better than it did,” McBrayer said. “But there is much more to do.”
Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists also will survey the damage to assess any potential impact to the wildlife in the area, McBrayer said.
Zeller said authorities are working to notify all of the residents in the area of the spill and the potential impact on private water wells. Alfred Sierra, who lives next to where authorities have set up their clean-up operation, and Alexis Alozado, who lives across the street, said they had not been notified to refrain from drinking their water.
Sierra said he was notified of the spill Monday evening but did not understand the severity of the spill until reports on Tuesday morning.
“15,000 is not a small amount,” said Sierra, who also has a well on his property. “Hopefully they get this cleaned up soon. They also need to find out how they can prevent this from happening again.”
Investigative & Environmental Reporter Kali Venable contributed to this story.