University oil spill simulation tests response

By Angelina Cole

The University conducted a simulation oil spill for Champaign, Urbana and Savoy fire departments Thursday morning. The drill tested personnel’s response strategy in the event of fuel leaking into the steam tunnels and water systems flowing to Boneyard Creek and the Embarras River.

“The drill will simulate a leak detected in the steam tunnels and as it branches out to Boneyard and the county,” said Captain John Barker of the Champaign Fire Department. “We’ll be testing different areas and setting up booms and keep the fuel oil from moving (further into the waterways).”

A dye simulating the oil was put into the water system near the campus’ actual oil tank farm, located just west of the E-14 campus parking lot close to Assembly Hall. The farm holds two million gallons of oil, which feed into the Abbott power plant.

“The drill was heavily scripted, and it did work OK,” said Keith Erickson, management engineer for the University office for facilities planning and programs. “The 911 call was made at 8:45 this morning when the drill started. It took a while to figure out what happened. We had delays built into the drill.”

The test went as planned after dye was detected in the water basin to the south of Campustown near Curtis Road after 10:30 a.m. Although the dye never made its way north to the area of Wright Street and Boneyard Creek, the fire department unit deployed absorbent booms just as units in the Curtis Road area did.

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The booms, similar to enormous foam swimming noodles and eight-feet in length, will float on top of water and are designed to collect chemicals but not water.

“If it were a bigger spill, we would have to build up earth and dams to get the mixture out of the water,” said Bill Wade, an engineer and EMT with the Savoy Fire Department.

The University’s Unified Command center in the E-14 parking lot was prepared for such a large-capacity drill with a dump truck, sand and a backhoe standing by.

A discussion was held Thursday afternoon with all drill participants to talk about what would happen in the event of a one-million gallon spill.

In such a situation, units could safely pump the oil out of the water system and haul it away to be recycled, Erickson said.

“It would be big, but all of this is do-able,” he said. “If we had a huge release in the water we could call for county and state assistance. This drill tested all those relationships and protocol.”