MILAN, N.M. (KRQE) - A massive diesel fuel leak at a gas station near Grants is prompting the state and residents to keep a close eye on the area's drinking water.
"This is a big, unfortunate catastrophic leak," said Jim Norton, director of the New Mexico Environmental Protection Division. "At least 10,000 gallons, maybe as much as 75,000 gallons of diesel, has been leaked in this particular case."
The leak first was noticed last fall by employees of Love's Truck Stop in Milan who reported it to the state, Norton said. The truck stop is just off Interstate 40 a few miles west of Grants.
"The gas station found that there were some discrepancies between the amount of gasoline going into the tanks and the amount that they were selling," he said.
As it turned out, a joint between two underground pipes leaked releasing the diesel fuel into the ground.
So far there is no diesel in residents' tap water, but the state will continue to monitor it. Still, it has found plenty of it in the ground.
"It is in the groundwater; there's no doubt it's in the ground water," Norton said. "We found as much as 3-4 feet of diesel in some of the wells out there, the wells that are there to monitor the pollution, not the wells that are being used for drinking water."
Steve and Vickie Kroen, who live across the street from the Love's gas station, are concerned about their water supply
"We have grandkids," Vickie Kroen said.
And neighbor Mildred Welsch isn't relying entirely on the state to keep her safe. She's hoping her water filtration system will provide one more barrier of protection from the pollution.
"Well, I worry about the water, drinking it," she said.
The state Environment Department will probably spend a couple of years extracting the diesel out of the groundwater. Then it will let Mother Nature take over. As rainwater percolates through the ground it washes out the fuel, ideally before it reaches people's drinking water.
This isn't the first pollution scare for the area. Love's had another leak in July 1996, when 5,000 gallons of gasoline seeped out of a holding tank. The state said that spill wasn't completely cleaned up yet when the second leak happened.
The first clean-up cost $625,000. But Love's paid only $10,000 because the state determined it had complied with all safety requirements.
However, the company could be on the hook for the entire clean-up cost for the latest spill--up to $2 million--because the Environment Department does not yet know if the safety requirements were met. If the company was not at fault, most of the tab will be paid by a multimillion dollar state account funded by fees from fuel distributors.
Love's told News 13 that it acted responsibly and reported the leak as soon as it was discovered. A spokeswoman said a leak like the one that spilled the diesel fuel is not uncommon.
The state inspects gas stations at least every three years for any possible leaks. Currently the department is keeping tabs on 1,000 fuel leaks. But this big one in Milan is taking top priority, Norton said.
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