Malfunctioning equipment at an oil well site leaked thousands of gallons of oil into a creek south of Rawlins, federal regulators said Monday, although they weren’t sure of the exact total.
The spill into Emigrant Creek, where cleanup operations are under way, totaled between 1,000 and 10,000 gallons but “is closer to the upper limit” of that range, said Gina Cristiano, on-scene coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency, in an email.
The EPA is now leading the site’s cleanup in coordination with the Bureau of Land Management, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and local property owners, according to a media release from the federal agency. The release also included new details about the spill and cleanup efforts.
After examining site conditions and the weathered nature of the oil, the spill was determined to have occured “some time ago,” the EPA said. Authorities were notified of an oil sheen on the creek on May 22.
The oil-stained vegetation along the stream bank and a strong odor of oil was detected near a piece of equipment on a Nadel and Gussman Rockies LLC oil well site.
Investigators determined that equipment that separates water from pumped oil was responsible for the spill, which ran from the site across the ground into the creek.
The company knew the oil spill resulted from a problem with the equipment in January, but authorities weren’t notified of the event until after the spill, said Cristiano and EPA spokesman Matthew Allen.
Calls to Nadal and Gussman Rockies from the Star-Tribune were not returned.
Cleanup crews worked by hand to chip oil-contaminated snow from the edges of the snowpack. They also flushed affected vegetation and the streambed to “remove and collect as much oil as possible,” the EPA said.
The response teams blocked a Bridger Pass Road culvert, constructed a siphone to slow water flow and collect oil and deployed floating booms and filter fences to capture the oil.
Crews will maintain the collection booms through the spring runoff period as melting snow releases more oil, the EPA said. The agency is also considering “additional response actions” to remove oil from vegetation and soils.
Emigrant Creek runs into Little Sage Creek, which flows into Teton Reservoir. No oil or any oil sheen has been detected farther downstream in Little Sage Creek or the reservoir, and the BLM has said the reservoir is still open for fishing.
The BLM conducted an initial investigation of the site, began the cleanup and notified the EPA on May 26.
Both the BLM and the EPA are reviewing possible consequences for the Denver-based oil company, the agencies said.