55,000 gallons of gasoline spills into Susquehanna, effect on Lancaster County drinking water unclear

A broken pipeline in Lycoming County on Friday dumped 55,000 gallons of gasoline into the Susquehanna River.

As the river, swollen with 6 to 8 inches of rain that fell overnight Thursday, rushes south, Lancaster County officials are gearing up to prevent contamination of the local water supply.

“With the amount that spilled, we certainly could see some impact on our intake along the Susquehanna River,” Charlotte Katzenmoyer, director of public works for Lancaster, said Friday afternoon. “We’ll continue to monitor it.”

“Certainly it’s something to be concerned about,” added Randy Gockley, director of the Lancaster Emergency Management Agency. “We don’t know yet the speed it will travel down the river.”

State officials said Friday the gasoline could reach the Lancaster area early Tuesday morning.

Friday morning breach

The Bureau of Emergency Operations and Resource Coordination, a department of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, issued an alert at 12:18 p.m. Friday.

The 8-inch pipeline was breached in Gamble Township, Lycoming County, at about 3 a.m. Friday, according to a statement from Sunoco Logistics, which shut down the line after detecting a drop in pressure.

The bureau said their “best guess” is that 1,300 barrels of product — approximately 55,000 gallons — spilled into Wallis Run, a tributary that flows into the Susquehanna.

Comparatively, an Olympic-sized swimming pool holds 660,430 gallons of water.

A response team from the Department of Environmental Protection is on site with local emergency responders, the bureau reported.

“Personnel are still having trouble accessing the break site to put eyes on it and get a better idea of the extent and volume due to flooding in the area,” according to the alert. “Please inform local water authorities of the potential contamination if they use the Susquehanna River as a water source.”

The breach was reportedly caused by heavy flooding in Lycoming County, which lies in the north-central region of Pennsylvania. Gockley said the area received 6 to 8 inches of rain.

“I’m sure they’re dealing with high-velocity water flows because of the flooding,” he said. “My gut tells me it will take a few days to reach us, but I can’t say that for sure. This far downstream, it’s hard to know.”

The gasoline will be diluted as it travels downriver, he said. And it’s still possible, he said, that emergency responders farther north will be able to contain the spill before it gets this far.

“I trust the Department of Environmental Protection will keep us informed,” he said.

Limit the intake

Local municipalities that draw potable water from the Susquehanna should be able to offset the problem simply by shutting down water intake operations when the spill reaches the area, Gockley said.

“Until we get the timing, it’s hard to say,” he said. “But if they shut down the water intakes, and if they have their water reservoirs filled up, it should not impact on the county.”

Katzenmoyer said the state Department of Environmental Protection is studying the “time of travel” to pin down a timeline as the gasoline heads south.

According to a statement from DEP Friday, the spill will reach the Lancaster and Columbia regions about 92 hours from the time of the spill.

Pumps are operating at full capacity “to get our tanks and reservoir full in anticipation of having to shut down,” Katzenmoyer added. “Once we shut down, residents will not notice a difference.”

The city draws about 60 percent of its water from the Susquehanna, she said.


“We also have staff that will monitor the river,” Katzenmoyer said. “They will be able to see gasoline slicks as they arrive.”

Rick Levis, from the state Fish & Boat Commission, said it’s too early to tell what impact the spill will have on the river’s fish population.

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