Fuel Spill Cleaned Up At Airport ; About 300 Gallons Lost During Delivery Mishap

Lebanon -- Environmental workers finished cleaning up a fuel spill outside Lebanon Municipal Airport yesterday, two weeks after a mix-up during a routine delivery at Signal Aviation Services sent about 300 gallons of commercial jet fuel seeping into the ground.

Signal Vice President Greg Soho called the incident a "minor spill," but airport Operations Supervisor Jay Fitzgerald said it triggered the biggest cleanup the airport has seen in 15 years.

No one was injured, and by yesterday, Fitzgerald said, there was little evidence of the mishap, except for a patch of dirt outside Signal's hilltop flight school and service center that could pass for a late-season landscape project.

Over the past two weeks, though, workers from the Massachusetts- based Clean Harbors Environmental Services took away a few large dump trucks of contaminated soil from the area around Signal's parking lot and fence, and replaced it with clean fill. Soho said the contaminated earth will be "baked," heated to burn off petroleum remains.

Soho declined to discuss the details of the spill, but an incident report filed with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) gives the following account:

Shortly after 3 p.m. on Nov. 13, a truck from Abenaqui Carriers arrived to deliver commercial jet fuel to one of two underground tanks at Signal, which sells fuel to pilots. Both tanks are accessed from one connection point, and the valve to the full tank was open, creating an overflow of fuel. Fitzgerald blamed a malfunctioning safety valve, but the official cause of the spill is listed on DES paperwork as "overfill." A message left with Abenaqui Carriers was not returned yesterday.

Fitzgerald said the spilled fuel probably represented a small portion of the entire amount being delivered, which he said could have totaled 10,000 gallons. A large commercial jet, Soho said, can hold upwards of 30,000 gallons of fuel on its own. With that much fuel regularly being transferred around airfields, Fitzgerald said, pumps are designed to move the liquid quickly, sometimes spewing out hundreds of gallons per minute. So when the process goes awry, "It's like a gunshot," he said.

Fitzgerald guessed that the duration of the spill in Lebanon was less than five minutes, short enough that by the time he got word of it and hurried over to Signal from the nearby airport building, the fuel was done flowing and, according to DES reports, had pooled on the pavement.

"These types of things happen all the time," Soho said.

Fitzgerald called the spill an "extreme rarity" at the airport. He said the last incident of this magnitude probably took place about 15 years ago, when Precision Airlines had a spill at its fuel facility at the terminal building.

Lebanon Fire Captain Andy White, whose department responded to the spill along with DES and Clean Harbors, said that it was the nature of the fuel involved, and not the amount, that made the incident unique for firefighters.

"If a tractor trailer truck involved in an accident were to split one of its saddle tanks and spill, we might see a similar volume of fuel," White said.

In this case, the fuel that spilled was Jet-A commercial fuel. It is the less combustible of two fuels used at the airport, White said, but even so, firemen spread a material called Speedy Dry along several parking spaces to absorb as much of it as possible. On top of mitigating the fire hazard, White said, "Our job is try to stop it from running into any public water supply, then stop it from soaking into the ground."

Department of Environmental Services Project Manager Carl Woodbury, who is handling the spill for the state, was unavailable for comment yesterday, but a report on the incident states there are no wells or storm drains near the spill.

While White said Lebanon firefighters only remained on the scene for only a few hours, workers for Clean Harbors took about two weeks to finish cleaning the site. Fitzgerald said that as part of the airport's emergency management plan, the FAA was also notified about the spill. No flights were delayed, he said, since the spill was outside the fenced runway area.

"I've got good people here at the airport who can handle this," he said.

Erin Hanrahan can be reached at (603) 727-3305 or ehanrahan@vnews.com