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Oil spill cleanup moves to source of pipeline leak; EPA begins to turn effort over to PEPCO workers


The cleanup of a power plant's oil spill in Prince George's County continued yesterday, shifting from the Patuxent River to the marsh at Swanson Creek where an underground oil pipeline apparently ruptured a week earlier.

Crews dug an L-shaped trench in the marsh yesterday so oil can flow into it and then be removed with vacuum hoses, said Carrie C. Deitzel, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA is overseeing the cleanup of the 111,000-gallon spill, which was discovered April 7 along a section of a 51-mile pipeline that supplies fuel to a Potomac Electric Power Co. generating plant at Chalk Point.

After a rocky start, Deitzel and Maryland environmental officials said the cleanup appeared to be going better in recent days.

Deitzel said pockets of oil that had been floating on the Patuxent have been skimmed off and that only a thin sheen of oil remains. The sheen poses no risk to human health or the environment, she said.

"We're pleased that it [the spill] appears contained and that the weather is cooperating with us," Deitzel said. "When we did a flyover this morning there appeared to be a lot of nondistressed waterfowl activity. That's a positive sign."

EPA officials expect to continue overseeing the cleanup through next week, but the agency has started to turn responsibility for daily operations over to PEPCO, which has contractors working on the cleanup, Deitzel said.

Susan Woods, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said the cleanup appeared to be going well. "Clearly, the pace has picked up considerably over the past several days," she said. "We have been blessed with good weather. A week ago, it was a whole other story."

Deitzel said 507 workers were "in the field" working on the cleanup and that 17 vacuum trucks, 37 oil skimming boats and an array of other equipment were deployed.

Deitzel said workers were also "collecting oiled debris" such as wood and other items that are washing ashore. Booms to trap oil were strung along Kitt Creek and Cat Creek yesterday.

The EPA on Thursday revised downward the estimate of the amount of oil recovered from the spill -- from 80 percent to barely 20 percent.

EPA officials said PEPCO overstated the amount of oil recovered because it failed to factor in the amount of water mixed into oil skimmed from the river into trucks.

Updated figures were not available yesterday.

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