Fort Drum continues ever expanding fuel spill cleanup work, displays new safeguards

High oblique aerial view looking east of Wheeler-Sack Auxiliary Airfield located on the Fort Drum Military Training Reservation near Watertown, NY.


By GORDON BLOCK | Watertown (N.Y) Daily Times | Published: May 14, 2014

FORT DRUM, New York — After spending years drawing out hundreds of thousands of gallons of spilled jet fuel from underneath Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield, the finish line remains out of reach for post officials.

Even more fuel remains in the ground, with millions of dollars’ worth of work still ahead.

“It is a long process. It could be many, many, many years to come before the last drop of fuel is removed,” said James M. Miller, the post’s environmental chief.

The post also presented its newly opened fueling point with safety systems meant to prevent and contain leaks.

The airfield jet fuel leak was discovered in 2006. Since then, the post says it has retrieved about 252,745 gallons of fuel out of an estimated 550,000 gallons tainting the ground.

However, Mr. Miller said that overall figure has a margin of error of about 100,000 gallons. The scope of the work has steadily increased in the past few years based on scientific estimates.

The spending to date on the cleanup is $34,915,018, and the new estimate for the overall work is $63.4 million. The Defense Energy Support Center is paying for the cleanup.

In addition to cleaning up the jet fuel, crews are collecting water contaminated by fuel particles so it can be processed. So far, 78,327,721 gallons of groundwater has been treated. The goal is for the airfield site to meet state Department of Environmental Conservation groundwater quality standards in January 2017.

“We’re committed over the long haul. We are not going to stop until this job is complete,” Mr. Miller said.

As they discussed their cleanup efforts, airfield staff also showed off the post’s new in-ground airfield fueling system. The separate $14.6 million project, which went online in April, features multiple safety features to ensure a major leak doesn’t happen again.

In addition to replacing miles of piping, the new system includes multiple technologies that can detect leaks as small as 0.08 gallon per hour, and has secondary containment layers to catch any leaking fuels. A contract has been signed by the Army to ensure its proper maintenance.

In addition to the safety benefits, Mr. Miller noted, the cost of the new fueling system was dramatically less than the cost of the cleanup.

“We can’t afford, honestly, to have another spill of this magnitude,” he said. “Obviously, nobody wants to do harm to the environment; this is environmentally a very bad thing that has happened with a spill like this. Economically, it is enormously expensive, and with budgets curtailed and reduced, the last thing the Army needs is another big bill here at Fort Drum to clean up another fuel spill.”

During a media tour of the new system on Tuesday, Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters landed at a pair of fuel-dispensing stations, quickly taking on hundreds of gallons of fuel from crews of soldiers before getting back into the air.

A. Joe White, chief of the airfield’s aviation division, said 140 to 160 aircraft visit the fueling point per week, guzzling from 20,000 to 30,000 gallons at a time.

Of the airfield’s six fueling points, Mr. White said, two are located in the cleanup area and will not be usable for years, when the work is done.


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