BG&E; talks to Perryman residents about oil leak, cleanup proposals


PERRYMAN -- The Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. says it's trying to determine the best way to clean up an estimated 250,000 gallons of oil that leaked from an underground fuel line at its Perryman power plant.

"It's a large release. The good news is that it's all on site. It hasn't migrated off site or into the water supply," said John Goheen, a Maryland Department of the Environment spokesman.

"The bad news is that cleaning up this spill is going to be quite time-consuming."

The oil leaked into an area the size of about five football fields, Mr. Goheen said.

BG&E; reported the leak to the Environment Department in November 1991, after repairmen replacing a leaking fuel line discovered extensive oil contamination of soil at the utility's 719-acre site bordering the Bush River in Harford County, Mr. Goheen said.

BG&E; had thought the leak in the line was minor until then.

The spill wasn't made public until yesterday, when BG&E; officials called a meeting with the area homeowners association at a local firehouse to brief the community.

Officers in the Forest Greens-Perryman Community Association expressed confidence in the company's ability to clean up the oil, although they were worried about how long the job would take.

"BG&E; has always been up front with us, but I have concerns about the race between reclamation and [the oil] reaching the Bush River," said Paul Tracy, a member of the community association.

The oil has been found as deep as 17 feet underground, floating on ground water moving toward the river at a slow pace of 50 to 100 feet a year. It is separated from deeper aquifers by a layer of clay, officials said.

The community's drinking water is not affected, utility and state environmental officials said.

"I am concerned about any oil in the ground," said Joseph P.

Dunn, the community association's president, who predicted that "going through the bureaucracy is going to take longer than extracting the oil from the ground."

"We have no beef with BG&E;," Mr. Dunn said. "They have always worked with us. They keep us well informed and do the best they can."

BG&E; began suspecting the fuel return line at the plant was leaking in March 1991, when tests on the tube showed pressure changes, John Metzger, a BG&E; spokesman, said. The line carried excess fuel from turbine engines back to a storage tank.

According to Mr. Metzger, company officials saw no point in notifying the community about the leak until the extent of the problem was known.

"When you've known for that long, people always say, 'What have you got to hide?' But there was no point in explaining to the public without knowing exactly what we had on our hands," said Mr. Metzger. "We wanted to get all our studies done first and we've just finished that."

There is no cost estimate for the cleanup yet, said Mr. Metzger.

The studies have revealed that from 180,00 gallons to 600,000 gallons may have leaked, but 250,000 gallons seems to be the best estimate, BG&E; said.

BG&E; confirmed the leak in October 1991 after workmen dug intothe ground to replace the line believed to be faulty.

"We found a one-eighth-inch diameter hole in the line and soils exhibiting fuel odors," said Mr. Metzger. He said BG&E; has not determined how long the line, installed 20 years ago, had been leaking.

After conducting soil and ground water tests in early November, BG&E; notified the state. The damaged line that was leaking has been replaced, BG&E; says. "The important thing is [the oil is] not going anyplace and it's not in the public water supply," said Mr. Metzger.

He said the oil leak is not connected to contamination at the county's Perryman well field, 2.5 miles north of the power plant.

"We haven't contaminated anything except the soil, and we're going to clean that up," said Mr. Metzger.

Harford officials have reported traces of trichloroethylene, a solvent that is a suspected carcinogen, in two of the eight wells that supply about half the drinking water for Harford's 24,000 water customers. The amount of the chemical which has been appearing in the public water supply is below federal safety standards.

Mr. Metzger said no TCE has been found in tests of the spilled oil, and Mr. Goheen confirmed that the spill is not related to the problem with the water supply.

BG&E;'s Perryman plant uses four combustion turbine engines to generate about 208 megawatts of power, said Mr. Metzger.

The engines are only used to generate electricity during periods of peak demand, such as very hot or cold weather, he said.

He also said that in future, fuel lines like the one found leaking will be placed above ground so that there is no danger of oil leaking unseen.

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