But how many wells will be drilled remains a question.
The Air Force had proposed three shallow wells between known areas of contamination and the nearest municipal water supply wells, but the New Mexico Environment Department in a letter on Friday called that proposal “inadequate” given the threat to the municipal drinking water supply.
In response, the Air Force has agreed to an additional six wells beneath southeast Albuquerque in an effort to determine how deep into the aquifer the contamination has reached, top base civilian official Tom Berardinelli said at a community meeting Wednesday.
The Air Force and state regulators are still in discussions about another 24 monitoring wells the state called for in its April 13 letter.
Berardinelli said Air Force efforts to pump contamination from the ground have already pulled 400,000 gallons of jet fuel from the ground, but much more cleanup work remains.
“That’s probably a small fraction of what’s there,” he said.
Berardinelli’s comments came at a luncheon meeting called by Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins, who represents the southeast Albuquerque neighborhood adjacent to the base where the contamination has been found.
The fuel came from underground pipes at a Kirtland aircraft fuel loading facility built in the 1950s. Air Force officials first noticed something amiss in 1999, but now believe it had been leaking for decades. An Environment Department analysis concluded that as much as 8 million gallons may have leaked unnoticed over the years.
It was not until 2007 that Air Force investigations revealed the fuel had reached the water table and was moving off the Air Force base, beneath the neighborhoods of southeast Albuquerque and toward the city’s water wells.
Since then, the Air Force, under pressure from the Environment Department, has cast an ever-wider net of monitoring wells, trying to figure out how far the fuel has spread.
The latest results from Air Force test wells show evidence of jet fuel in groundwater beneath the neighborhood around the corner of Louisiana and Anderson SE, more than a mile from the source of the leak.
The state is requiring the additional wells because of a gap in data between known areas of contamination and the nearest Albuquerque Bernalillo County Utility Authority drinking water well field. The Environment Department’s letter complained that the Air Force has known about the data gap since at least last December and has not been moving quickly enough to drill the new wells to determine whether the water utility’s drinking water supply in the area is threatened.
“The Air Force needs to drill some more wells. They need to plug that data gap,” Jim Davis, head of the Environment Department’s Resource Protection Division, said at Wednesday’s meeting.
Davis called the spill the most serious among thousands of fuel spills the Environment Department has dealt with in recent decades, but said the department believes it ultimately can be cleaned up before it contaminates the drinking water supply.
“This is a very, very serious problem, but it is not unique,” Davis said. “We can and we will clean this up.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal