Oil leaked from a Chevron refinery in the Cascade Mountains on Monday, spilling into the Columbia River Gorge, spilling onto a bridge and creating a hazardous spillway.
The oil, which spilled into the river near the Bighorn Hills in north-central Washington, caused minor injuries to two people and was contained to a large area.
“This is a significant event and a significant accident,” said Dave Deutsch, executive director of the Washington State Oil Pollution Control Commission.
The accident was reported around 6:45 a.m.
Monday by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said spokesman Mike Smith.
Smith said there were no injuries.
The agency was responding to a report of oil in a pipeline near the Columbia.
The incident happened just a few miles from the home of John W. Smith, who said he lives near the Chevron refinery and works on the property.
The spillway that was opened to allow oil to flow into the Gorge is designed to prevent oil from seeping through into the gorge, which is about 100 miles north of Seattle.
Smith and other residents had been concerned about the oil and the possibility that it could spill into the River Gorge and contaminate the waterway, which connects the Cascade foothills with the Columbia in Washington.
Smith’s family has lived in the area for generations.
“I’ve been concerned that it’s just a matter of time before it’s going to spill into this area,” he said.
“So I’m just worried about the fish and the water.”
Smith said he called the spillway’s operator about 3:30 a.ms.
Monday and asked him to clear the spillwater to allow for the oil to move.
The operator responded that he was going to have to do it himself, Smith said.
He said he didn’t know why the operator was being so slow to open the spillhole and said he asked to speak to the owner of the Chevron company.
The owner told Smith he was busy cleaning the spillwell and couldn’t be reached, Smith recalled.
He asked the operator to call his daughter and get in touch with her.
He was told the spill was contained and that a bridge would be open shortly, Smith added.
Smith called his local news station, which broadcast the story, and asked if he could use his cell phone camera to take photos of the spill.
The camera captured images of the spilled oil in the Columbia Gorge and a portion of the river.
“It’s a very sad story and a very bad day for all of us in the state of Washington,” said Smith, a Democrat who has lived on the Cascade mountains for 25 years.
He and other neighbors who live near the spill well have filed a lawsuit against Chevron and the company’s parent company, Chevron Corp., which is based in Houston.
Chevron said the company has been cooperating with the regulators and has provided additional engineering and other information to the agency.
Chevron spokeswoman Erin Glynn said the oil company’s pipeline has been inspected for spill prevention and has not been identified as a potential source of oil.
“We will continue to work with our partners and partners of the Northwest Pipeline System to minimize risk to the river, the watershed and the local communities,” Glynn wrote in an email.
The Washington Department of Natural Resources is responsible for responding to oil spills and cleanup needs, spokeswoman Lori Osterman said in an emailed statement.
“The safety of the public and the environment is our top priority,” she said.
The federal government also is responsible to protect the water, said Michael Haney, a spokesman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“As long as we have these pipelines in place, they are safe,” he added.
“But if they do break, the federal government can step in and help out.
We want to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
The agency is asking the public to contact local law enforcement authorities if they spot oil, debris and oil spills in their area.
Anyone with information on the spill should call the agency’s hotline at 800-426-3838.
The case will be handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U,S.
attorney’s office in Washington state, according to a news release.