Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Kansas flood spreads oil from closed refinery

Philadelphia Inquirer, via AP: The flood engulfing homes to the rooftops carried an extra curse yesterday as a slick of 42,000 gallons of thick crude oil floated downstream with the mud and debris, coating everything it touched with a slimy, smelly layer of goo.

"My question is: How are they going to get all that oil out of the environment?" said Mary Burge, a heart-surgery patient who had to breathe from a portable oxygen tank because the petroleum odor was so strong it could be detected by the crews of helicopters passing overhead. By yesterday, the oil was nearing a large Oklahoma reservoir that supplies water to several cities.

The Verdigris River had crested and was beginning to recede at Coffeyville, but it was kept high by water being released from the Elk City and Fall River Toronto Lake reservoirs upstream, said Jim Miller, Montgomery County emergency manager.

"It's going to come down the Verdigris until they shut that water supply off," he said. "So it's just a matter of time." A malfunction allowed the oil to spill from the Coffeyville Resources refinery Sunday, while the plant was shutting down as the flood headed toward it on the Verdigris River.

Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the Kansas adjutant general, said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state officials would work with officials at the refinery to measure the amount of contamination and help the refinery clean up. In the meantime, Watson said, "we're asking everyone to avoid the floodwaters."

Midwestern states that depend on fuel supplies from the flooded refinery will see some of the highest prices in the nation for gasoline and diesel this summer, industry experts said.

The oil joins other causes of misery for thousands of flood evacuees in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. "We do have health concerns," said Bret Glendening, city manager in Osawatomie, Kan. "You've got stagnant water. The water's been into the wood. You have mold issues. There's a whole host of concerns flooding causes."

"All our utilities are underwater," Fredonia Mayor Max Payne said. On Monday night, President Bush declared a major disaster in Kansas and ordered federal aid for recovery efforts.

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