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Feds: Water contamination minimal from exploded well

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By The Staff

By CINDY SIMPSON

rccindysimpson@bellsouth.net

Environmental officials were on scene Friday at the site of an oil-well fire in Oliver Springs that was still burning.

Perry Gaughan, an on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said officials are monitoring air levels for contaminants.

The plume of smoke from the fire can be seen from as far away as Ladd Landing in Kingston.

Gaughan said he and contractors from Atlanta were planning on staying until the fire is out.

Gaughan said they are studying the air for hydrogen sulfide, which burns into sulfur dioxide. They are also looking for other potentially hazardous organic compounds.

"Nothing is showing up, simply because everything is being burned up at the well head," Gaughan said.

"The levels are so low it is not even measuring on our instruments," he said.

Gaughan said officials are monitoring the residential area and some of his staff are getting as close as 40 to 50 yards to the burning well head.

Officials were also looking at water contamination concerns.

Gaughan said an effort was made as soon as possible to stop possible oil runoff into what he referred to as Wrights Creek, a nearby stream. Around 20 booms, material that collects oil, but not water, into pools, were placed all the way to the city limits of Oliver Springs.

When walking about a half mile of the creek Friday afternoon, he said he didn't see the tell-tale sheen of oil on the water.

They were planning on taking two samples that day and said he hoped to have the results within 24 to 48 hours.

At press time he was trying to set up a lab.

People in the area told reporters they saw oil contamination in some waterways.

Gaughan said one man called the Atlanta office about concern for his livestock.

"If anyone has a concern like that we'll come take a look," he said. If they do not see a sheen on the water, they will make a decision whether to test or not he said.

Oliver Springs Town Manager David Bolling said that the oil leak on Tuesday and Wednesday's explosion have not impacted their water and sewer operations.

Bacon Spring, the city's water source, is across town and upstream from the incident.

He said that tests at the sewer plant have not found oil. Bolling said initially the creeks that run down to the city smelled strongly of oil, but as the day wore on and heavy rains hit the area, the smell died.

Families who were kept from their homes on Cove Lane since they were evacuated in the wake of Wednesday's fire have found more comfortable shelter.

The Red Cross put up five families in Oak Ridge hotels Wednesday and later placed five more in a hotel in the aftermath of the fire that still blazed Friday.

"We've made arrangements for them to stay at area hotels through Sunday," Oak Ridge chapter manager Tony Farris said.

Farris said they have also provided what is called client assistance cards for people to purchase a week of groceries. The amount of the card is factored by the size and need of the family.

"We started that during Hurricane Katrina," Farris said.

"We interview the family and find out their immediate needs," he said. They give them an allotment based on what they need. In the case of this situation, residents were allowed back in to their residences to gather clothes and other items, so money for that was not allocated.

Farris said the Red Cross is using three hotels, including the Comfort Inn, Jameison Inn and Staybridge, which he said donated two nights.

On Thursday evening, several residents, including Bobby Lloyd. Lloyd is a Cove Lane resident who drove by the well when flames ignited, but fled from his vehicle and got away unscathed. His truck burned.

One resident, Mandi Russell, said that the operator of the well, Dan Potts, has said that if residents need a place to stay after checkout on Monday, he will provide for them.

Farris said that was what was indicated during a meeting with residents and officials Thursday afternoon.

"We've got them covered through checkout Monday," Farris said.

Farris said the food and supplies brought for residents and emergency personnel Wednesday, the shelter that was later closed Wednesday night at Norwood Middle School and the cost of providing shelter and food to displaced people will likely cost between $5,000 to $6,000.

Wild Well Control Inc., a Texas firm that specializes in oil-well fires, was still on the scene Friday.

Potts has said he believes the fire started when Jonathan Vann, a young man that was trying to drive to his work at the end of Cove Lane, drove through the thickest section of oil that covered the roadway.

Potts said that something in the vehicle probably sparked the fire.

Residents contend nobody was directing traffic and telling residents not to drive in the roadway.

Friends of Vann said he was in critical condition in the burn center at Vanderbilt Medical Center.