French Broad River Oil Spill: Still More Questions Than Answers

The French Broad Oil Spill two weeks ago has largely disappeared from the media, but its effects on drinking water and aquatic systems have not. Many questions remain unanswered, and little information has been released about the cleanup efforts.

On Feb. 4, an oil spill leaked at least 1,000 gallons of petroleum in the French Broad River in Asheville, N.C. The week following the spill, health officials advised the public to stay out of river.

The spill came from an above ground fuel storage tank on the property of Mountain Energy Bulk Fuel located near the River Arts District in Asheville, N.C. Brett Laverty, a hydrogeologist for the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Resources, reported that the leak came from an extremely old tank and that the company plans to shut down this location.

Mountain Energy contracted Mountain Environmental to clean the spill, according to Laura Leonard, spokeswoman with the North Carolina Division of Waste Management. Overseeing the cleanup was the Department of Environmental Quality.

Laverty reported on Feb. 8, that the sheen that was present in the river at the inception of the spill, was no longer visible. He estimated that the majority of the spill had by that time washed downstream toward Tenn. and that officials at the water treatment center in Newport, Tenn. were made aware of the spill on the night it happened. Also on that day, 25 tons of contaminated soil were evacuated and removed.

The following is an interview with Hartwell Carson, the French Broad Riverkeeper with MountainTrue. His answers speak to the progress and uncertainty of the spill.

Who first reported the spill?

HC: Not sure, but it was reported to the [Asheville] fire department.


How long does oil stay in the water?

HC: Depends on how much oil and if the discharge continues.


What is the clean-up plan?

HC: [Mountain Environment] has stopped the discharge, plugged the pipe where it was coming out, put out booms to soak up the fuel.


How exactly will the oil be collected, treated, or dispersed?

HC: Just the booms will try to soak up the remaining oil.


Is it true that oil in rivers sometimes sinks and persists?

HC: Yes. It will sometimes sink into the sediment.


What impact could the oil spill have on fish and aquatic life in the French Broad?

HC: Not sure. It will be very hard to know, because of all the other factors that come into play.


How many other sources of oil, coal ash, or other toxic contaminants are in the floodplain of the French Broad River?

HC: I am not sure, but I have requested a list from [Department of Environmental Quality] of every facility that has a stormwater permit. I don’t have that yet.


Has Mountain Energy issued a statement or apologized for the spill?

HC: I have not seen one if they did.


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