West Virginia Chemical Spill Prompts Oklahoma Officials To Examine Storage Locations

Jan 24, 2014

Freedom Industries storage tanks along the Elk River in West Virginia.
Credit WVUMC / Flickr Creative Commons

The West Virginia chemical spill that left 300,000 residents without water has spurred Oklahoma environmental regulators to examine chemical storage locations.

On Jan. 9, about 7,500 gallons of MCHM and PPH — shorthand for the coal-cleaning fluid 4-methylcyclohexane methanol and a mixture of glycol esthers — and leaked out of a Freedom Industries storage tank and into the Elk River, forcing authorities to advice people in nine counties not to drink the water for days.

The spill has raised questions about chemical safety data, regulatory oversight, corporate disclosure, and storage rules. Oklahoma’s Department of Environmental Quality is now combing through data to “determine how close chemical storage facilities are to public water supplies,” the Journal Record‘s Sarah Terry-Cobo reports:

To be sure, the Sooner State doesn’t face exactly the same risks as in Charleston, W.Va. There are six coal-fired power plants in Oklahoma, and each relies on a water supply to operate. The Sooner power plant is on the privately owned Sooner Lake; the Muskogee Red Bud plant is on the Arkansas River; AES Shady Point and the Grand River Dam Authority power plant are on the Poteau River; Western Farmers Electric Cooperative is on the Red River; and the PSO Northeastern power plant is near Lake Oologah.

The state doesn’t rely on rivers as a main source of public water supply, like others in the eastern United States. In addition, the practice of coal washing isn’t used in Oklahoma, Monty Elder, the emergency response coordinator with the DEQ tells the paper. However, there is still the possibility that chemicals stored for other purposes could contaminate public water supplies, Elder said.

Here’s what DEQ knows so far:

… there are 173 chemical storage facilities within 1 mile of a public water supply intake, and 100 of those are oil and gas wells. There are 704 chemical storage facilities within 2 miles of a public water supply intake, and 483 are oil and gas wells. Now Elder is working to separate out 40,000 oil and gas well records from the others.


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