The Conservation Beat
10:48 pm
Wed April 18, 2012

Fuel Spill Burn Off To Speed Up Next Week

Officials at Kirtland Air Force Base say, starting Monday, they’ll begin burning off 400 gallons of jet fuel per day from a decades-old underground spill in Albuquerque.

For now, they’ll be using the same passive soil vapor extraction technology that’s been pulling out roughly 135 gallons a day for the last eight years.  Two new wells drilled in more concentrated areas of the spill account for the increase in efficiency.

This fall, officials hope to upgrade to a more powerful extraction method. That would take care of another 1000 gallons of fuel per day while scientists figure out what to do next.

But with an estimated 8 million gallons of fuel to contend with, residents like David McCoy with Citizen Action New Mexico say none of this is fast enough. He says after 15 years (the leak was first detected in the late 1990s), the clean up should be much further along.

"We're not seeing anything other than studies, and more plans for more studies."

McCoy argues, for example, that officials should already be working to remove chemicals that have dissolved into the aquifer and are slowly moving toward drinking water wells.  But scientists say there are problems with so-called "pump and treat" methodology--like what to do with the contaminated water once it's up, and questions about whether it might actually speed up the movement of pollution in the groundwater. 

Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart-Stebbins agrees that everyone would like to see the process move faster, but she points out that clean up efforts only began  in earnest when the state Environment Department got involved in 2010.  She says, before that, there wasn't a real understanding of the severity of the problem.

check out our conservation blog: earth air waves