Air Force outlines work done on Kirtland fuel spill

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As the chief of the Air Force’s environmental restoration program management office, I recently attended the regular weekly meeting held by the Air Force Civil Engineer Center with Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, New Mexico Environment Department and other stakeholders to discuss the investigation and clean-up of the Kirtland Bulk Fuels Facility leak.

Since discovery of the leak 15 years ago, we have worked diligently with local and state authorities to aggressively clean up the spill so it doesn’t affect surrounding communities. In order to keep the community informed, here’s an update of our response to date and future plans related to our commitment to conduct a full clean-up of the spill.

The Air Force’s primary focus is to keep the city’s water supply safe. We put systems in place designed to decrease concentrations within the fuel plume and prevent any impact on the local water supply. To date, monthly sampling by the ABCWUA has detected no contamination from Air Force fuel in Ridgecrest wells.

On May 29, the Air Force finalized an agreement with the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey and provided $2.67 million to install sentinel and flow monitoring wells between the plume and Ridgecrest wells. USGS is coordinating exact locations with NMED and ABCWUA.

The intent is to put the sentinel wells at locations that provide early warning and trigger action 10 years out from the plume potentially reaching water from Ridgecrest Wells 3 and 5. Drilling is planned to start in July.

The spill was first discovered in November 1999 and an investigation identified the cause as a leaking pipe in the off-loading area of the base fuels facility. Our initial response was to install monitoring wells, in accordance with a plan approved by NMED. Over the past 14 years, the Air Force has installed 116 monitoring wells and 287 soil vapor monitoring wells in order to best assess and map the fuel leak.

We followed that with an NMED-approved soil remediation system to begin extracting fuel from the ground. Since April 2003, when the first of four soil vapor extraction systems began operating, we’ve removed more than 3 million pounds of hydrocarbons from the subsurface.

In 2010, we awarded a $50 million performance-based contract to Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure, Inc., now part of Chicago Bridge & Iron, to analyze the plume, conduct interim remediation measures and to propose a final remedy by September 2014. As part of CB&I’s strategy, a high-volume soil vapor extraction system was installed on base in January 2013. The process flow of the new system is about 10 times more than the individual systems that were in place. We may add more systems as appropriate.

Base officials have put systems in place to prevent future occurrences by constructing a $12 million, state-of-the-art replacement fuel complex. The system includes spill prevention measures and above-ground lines that can be visibly inspected.

Finally, the Air Force recently provided an investigation report to NMED that will allow us to move into the more operationally active clean-up phase.

The Air Force also provided NMED with a work plan that includes an interim measure for air sparging and soil vapor extracting operations. Sparging systems inject air into fuel-contaminated groundwater to release contaminants and pull them from the subsurface.

In accordance with NMED direction, the air sparging system will be installed by June 30.

All documentation and information about the plume and Air Force response operations is readily available to the general public on the base website and on the NMED website.

Kirtland officials will continue to provide remediation updates to all stakeholders.

The next Citizens Advisory Board meets July 22 at the Cesar Chavez Community Center, 7505 Kathryn Avenue SE. The public is invited to attend.

The Air Force and Kirtland AFB are responsible stewards of the environment and are committed to a complete clean-up of the fuel leak site. The plume is not affecting the city’s water supply and all of our efforts are intended to ensure it never does.