Crude oil pools in the Oak Glen Nature Preserve. (EPA)
As Gary Broughton drove down a stretch of rural road around 20 miles northwest of downtown Cincinnati on Monday night, an "oily, fuel" smell so strong overcame him that he stopped his vehicle to investigate. But what Broughton discovered was even more foul: some 240 barrels of crude oil — an EPA estimated 10,000 gallons worth — pooled in a football field-sized area in the Oak Glen Nature Preserve.
“It made me sick when I saw it, I couldn't believe it,” Broughton told WLWT. “It is terrible, absolutely terrible."
Soon the area was teeming with crews from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and local first responders, who discovered that a section of an underground crude oil pipeline — owned primarily by Sunoco and operated by Mid-Valley Pipeline Co. — that stretches from Michigan to Texas had sprung a leak, reports WCPO. Investigators determined that the crude oil had seeped into a mile-long stretch of creek and floated down to the marshland where it pooled.
By early Tuesday morning the pipeline had been shut off, contained the spill and crews began excavating the oil from the site. The cleanup is expected to take at least a week, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.
Bob Mason, a stewardship manager for the company that owns Oak Glen Nature Preserve, told the Enquirer that the spill "could definitely have been worse later in the spring when all of our wildlife is coming out of hibernation" and that the frozen turf helped to contain the spill.
A Greater Cincinnati Water Works spokesperson told the Associated Press that the crude oil wouldn't threaten the public water supply because of water treatment plants located upstream. Still, officials were testing private wells in the area for signs of contamination.
So far, investigations haven't determined how long, or why, the leak has sprung, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports, but the pipeline has a rather dubious environmental history. The paper outlines 39 other accidents stemming from the pipeline since 2006, totaling more than $7 million in property damage during that time.
According to the Enquirer, the pipeline was last inspected in 2011. Residents told officials that they had smelled petroleum for days, but local authorities said they had received no complaints before the spill was discovered.
MORE: Oil Pipeline Explodes in China
This picture taken on November 22, 2013 shows a general view of the damage after an oil pipeline exploded, ripping roads apart, turning cars over and sending thick black smoke billowing over the city of Qingdao, east China's Shandong province. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)