BURLEY, Idaho — Petroleum products leaking into the ground for decades have been riding a slow wave of underground water toward the Snake River, but government and private industry are trying to catch it before any serious damage is done to the water.
The gas and diesel fuel is coming from an area near three petroleum facilities along state Highway 81 east of Burley.
Tesoro Petroleum Corp. and Sinclair Oil Corp. operate distribution terminals with storage tanks, and Chevron Corp., which used to operate storage tanks, has a pipeline at the site.
Chevron spokesman Dan Johnson estimated the contamination dates back to the 1950s.
Federal inspectors say the leaking has been stopped, but decades of previous leaks have left hydrocarbons under ground and in the aquifer.
“Groundwater has migrated toward the river and taken gas with it,” said Pat O’Rorke, a water quality officer for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.
Cleanup involves drilling hundreds of wells in the area to inject air and propane. The hydrocarbons are then vacuumed out and burned off.
Along the river itself, the soil will be excavated, though that can’t happen until the water level drops, according to an EPA pollution report.
However, the excavation could potentially impact two kinds of snails protected under the Endangered Species Act and also a productive bass fishery.
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