TAMPA — Port Tampa Bay is cleaning up a decades-old diesel spill, discovered during renovations of its petroleum terminal.
Port Environmental Director Phil Steadham estimates the spill was somewhere between 800 and 1,500 gallons of No. 2 diesel and likely occurred 20-30 years ago.
“We may never know how the spill occurred,” said port spokesman Andrew Fobes. “We are just trying to be solution-oriented about it. We’re just solving the problem.”
Steadham said he immediately reported the find to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and he is now working with the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) to complete the cleanup. A port crew sunk a well on Monday that will be used to pump the diesel out.
He said the cleanup team has determined the boundaries of the spill and has no reason to believe any of it leaked into Cut “D” Channel, which lies between the petroleum terminal and Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Islands.
EPC Geologist Chuck Heintz said the diesel is on top of the surficial aquifer, four to five feet underground. He said he feels confident the port has identified the extent of the old spill and is handling the cleanup appropriately. He reiterated that there is no reason to believe any of the diesel migrated in to the channel.
The EPC is under contract with FDEP to handle any petroleum spills in the county.
Heintz said the port will submit quarterly reports on the progress of the cleanup.
The spill, which Steadham estimates is 20- to 30 years old, was located strictly by accident.
Steadham said crews were working to renovate the petroleum berth when FDEP officials asked them to check the depth of some stormwater pipes buried in the same area. When the crew began to dig down to the pipes, employees encountered a strong diesel smell. Testing verified that there had been a spill.
Steadham estimates Port Tampa Bay has already spent about $200,000 on discovery and cleanup, but said it is difficult to estimate, at this point, what the total cost of the cleanup will be.
Because the port owns the property where the spill occurred, it is ultimately responsible for the cleanup, Heintz said. “They are taking direct responsibility and doing a good job getting it cleaned up.”
No. 2 diesel, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, is used in high-speed engines such as those in railroad locomotives, trucks and cars.