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KAFB Fuel Spill Pipe

KAFB Fuel Spill Pipe

It's estimated that over 40 years, 6 million to 24 million gallons of aviation fuel leaked out of these three small holes.

Little holes cause huge problems. This thumb-sized hole in pipe was found during investigation of the Kirtland Air Force Base aviation fuel spill.

There were two other similar sized holes in a several-yards-long section of pipe dug out of the ground at the base’s Bulk Fuels Facility. It’s estimated that over 40 years, 6 million to 24 million gallons of aviation fuel leaked out of these three small holes.

So how did the holes get there?

Air Force officials think this is what happened. The pipe was buried under railroad tracks that carried trains bringing aviation fuel onto the base. Each time a train rumbled over the tracks it compressed the ground underneath, and thus the pipe. The pipe was pounded against rocks below it and the holes formed.

Fuel flowed through the pipe only when tank cars of fuel were being unloaded. The underground pipe sent fuel to a pump house and then into above-ground storage tanks. It wasn’t those storage tanks that leaked all that fuel, it was those three small holes.

The fuel spill cleanup is gaining momentum. Since June, a single extraction well has pumped 13 million gallons of contaminated water from the ground. That water has been treated at a temporary facility on base and used to irrigate the base’s golf course. Two more extraction wells will be operational by year’s end, and a permanent treatment facility is being built.

Air Force officials have estimated that it could take up to ten years to collapse the underground plume of ethylene dibromide-contaminated water.

— Dennis Domrzalski

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Albuquerque’s definitive alternative newspaper publishing an inquisitive, modern approach to the news and entertainment stories that matter most to New Mexicans. ABQ Free Press’ fresh voice speaks to insightful and involved professionals who care deeply about our community.
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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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