Fort Smith Oil Spill Mostly Cleaned Up; Recovery Continues

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Crews have cleaned up “the majority” of mineral oil in a Fort Smith spill from almost three weeks ago, according to a spokesman for OG&E, the company whose transformer exploded and caused about 16,000 gallons of mineral oil to spill into a body of water in Fort Smith.

Authorities say the June 1 spill began at a utility substation near the intersection of Rutgers Street and Texas Road in Fort Smith. Oil leaked into a drainage area that leads to a tributary of the Poteau River but did not reach the Poteau or Arkansas rivers. The spill was contained to a two-and-a-half mile stretch of the tributary.

OG&E, with oversight from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, is in the latter stages of cleanup, although it is difficult for officials to place an estimate on when it may be completed, said Rob Ratley, communications affairs manager for OG&E.

Ratley estimated two weeks ago that the company had collected close to 11,000 gallons of oil at that time. The recent rains have aided the cleanup effort, separating the oil from the water, Ratley said.

Crew are using containment booms to prevent the oil from spreading further downstream. Absorbent booms and pads collect the oil and vacuum trucks and water skimmers remove the oil from the surface of the water. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, crews are diverting the oil to several recovery locations. Earlier this month, about 40 crew members were working to clean up the substance, Ratley said.

According to Ratley, the substance is commonly used in the electric industry. He said it is highly refined and poses low risks, but people should still be cautious.

“Even though it is a version of mineral oil, it’s important people don’t come in contact with it, or ingest it, or breathe it,” he said earlier this month.

Ratley said if a person is exposed to the mineral oil, it could cause skin irritations and nausea. In the event this should occur, the EPA recommends individuals contact their health care provider.

EPA has found no evidence of impact to any residential properties. The cause of the leak and the amount of oil leaked is still under investigation.

Once the oil is cleaned, Ratley says OG&E will go into a maintenance phase, and they’ll leave booms in place for safe measure.

“We’re committed to cleaning it up thoroughly, so there’s really not an end date as far as our clean up,” said Ratley. “We are very pleased with the progress that we are making, and we will be curtailing some of the personnel as we advance further.”