River authority concerned about refinery safety

Fuel spill Saturday was second in two months


The San Antonio River Authority is now concerned that there has been a pattern of incidents at the Calumet jet fuel refinery that have contaminated the river.

On Saturday an estimated 1,100 gallons of jet fuel spilled at the plant, with less than 100 gallons getting into a tributary of the river.

SARA confirmed Monday that the spill did not kill any fish and that a testing firm hired by Calumet is testing soil along the banks to see how much needs to be replaced and replanted.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is investigating this incident as well as a larger spill at the same plant in March.

Steven Schauer, San Antonio River Authority spokesman, said overall spills and contamination of the river has not been a big problem.

"In the last few years it's been very infrequent," Schauer said.

However, SARA is now becoming concerned about Calumet because of two spills in two months and fires at the plant that have also led to environmental concerns.

The problem is SARA has no authority to do anything in regard to the plant's activities.

"SARA's not a regulator so we don't have the regulatory authority to make someone clean up an area," Schauer said. "For the Calumet site, for example, that would really be the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality."

TCEQ records show only one Notice of Violation at the plant in 2012 where contractors reportedly forced open a value that resulted in a fire.

In hopes of reducing spills at plants like Calumet, SARA is planning to gather local emergency responders and businesses to talk about spills and how to respond.

Schauer said a date for a tabletop exercise for all involved parties is now being discussed.

"We see a need, we see a problem and we're stepping in to bring all of the players together to prepare for that," Schauer said. "We're bringing everybody together to make sure that if a future accident occurs our community is prepared to respond."

Besides Calumet, recent river spills include a June 2013 spill of 40,000 gallons of raw sewage into a tributary of Cibolo Creek resulting in 276 dead fish and a February 2013 incident where a mobile home park's septic system was not working and raw sewage was discharged into a tributary of Calaveras Creek.

In December of 2012, SARA and other agencies responded to an oil pit located on property adjoining the San Antonio River in South Bexar County and removed oil, re-mediated soil and plugged an oil well.

SARA has improved its response to spills and is now keeping containment equipment along the river instead of storing it at a central location where it would have to be moved in.

"At strategic locations along the eight mile mission reach we have per-positioned oil booms and pads," Schauer said.

TCEQ is still investigating both last month's Calumet spill as well as the latest one and if a violation is issued, a fine could result.

A message left with Calumet Specialty Products Partners has not been returned.