The American Petroleum Institutes Lake Tawakoni Gas Spill FAQs




Question: What happened on March 9, 2000 near Lake Tawakoni?

Answer: A four foot section of steel pipe ruptured causing a gasoline spill near East Caddo Creek. This was immediately detected by computers at Explorer Pipeline, and extraordinary measures were begun to control the spill. The pipeline was shut down within minutes of the rupture. Emergency teams were dispatched and the spill was initially contained and controlled 23 miles from the lake. No gasoline got into the lake.

Question: I understand that heavy rains then caused the gasoline additive MTBE to move toward the lake. Is that true?

Answer: Yes. Heavy rains began shortly after the spill was contained. The emergency teams had built some earthen dams to control the spill. However, the sudden and heavy storm caused this dry creek bed to rise at least 12 feet. The water eroded the newly constructed earthen dams allowing the gasoline and additive to move closer to within eight miles of the lake. Emergency crews immediately constructed additional dams, deployed floating containment booms and positioned additional equipment to tackle any MTBE which might threaten the lake.

Question: If the gasoline was contained so far from the lake, why have concerns been raised about the quality of water at Lake Tawakoni?

Answer: Traces of MTBE were found at the lake following the storms. MTBE, mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency, is a synthetic additive used to make fuel burn cleanly. Too much of the additive can cause an unpleasant taste and odor. This caused all of the customers and regulatory agencies to begin monitoring of Lake Tawakoni for MTBE, after the spill. We have been working in a spirit of cooperation to solve this issue.

Question: What did the company do when the MTBE was discovered?

Answer: Five stripping units, designed to rid the water of MTBE, were installed. MTBE is water -soluble, which means it mixes with water but it evaporates when it hits air. These units literally bubble air through the water allowing the dissolved MTBE to evaporate out of the water. In addition, new coffer dams were built to prevent any further spread of the additive. As of April 11, Explorer decided to extract and isolate immediately as much as 30,000 cubic yards of soil from the spill site. The company agreed to this even though outside independent experts are certain that 99% of the MTBE has already evaporated and poses absolutely no danger to the water supply. Explorer will also utilize a high technology internal inspection device that uses ultrasound to verify the integrity of the pipeline to address concerns raised by the City of Dallas. This is a safe responsible company, and we have committed a lot of resources to solving this problem.

Question: How much has this cost?

Answer: Over a million dollars so far. The dollars have been spent on costs to utilize Garner Environmental, the primary emergency responder. In addition, Explorer funded a substitute water system for West Tawakoni, and over $100,000 has been spent on laboratory fees alone. Explorer also announced approval today of a $4.1 million expenditure to inspect the pipeline from Dallas to Tulsa, approximately 250 miles.

Question: Are you testing the water?

Answer: Every day, the water is tested at multiple locations. As many as 40 samples are drawn and tested for the additive. The samples are being evaluated by an independent testing laboratory selected by the Sabine River Authority. The key point is that testing has shown a steady decrease in measurable MTBE.

Question: Who is doing the testing?

Answer: The testing is being conducted by ER MI in Allen. Freese and Nichols, the expert engineering firm hired by The Sabine River Authority which owns Lake Tawakoni, gathers the samples. Testing is also being conducted by the City of Dallas.

Question: Is it possible for MTBE to sink into the lake bottom?

Answer: Absolutely not. If you recall your chemistry lessons, MTBE is soluble in water and stays mixed in water. It is lighter than water and therefore evaporates. when exposed to air. Sun and wind speed that process.

Question: What do the test results show?

Answer: The tests show no evidence of MTBE at the sample sites and at the water intake. Traces of it were found in isolated parts of the lake in mid-March. However, the cleanup and favorable weather conditions, such as rain and high winds, have helped dispose of the MTBE. Ironically, the post-tornado weather experienced in North Texas actually assisted a quick clean bill-of-health for Lake Tawakoni. Strong winds and rains over the last two weeks have resulted in lower MTBE levels each day.

Question: Why did the City of Dallas suspend its intake of the Lake Tawakoni water?

Answer: We understand the city's desire to be cautious about the effects of this spill. Now, however, experts agree that the water is at a "non-detect" level for MTBE. The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, The Environmental Protection Agency, The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, The Sabine River Authority and an independent expert who authored a landmark study on MTBE for the University of California at Davis agree the water is safe.

Question: What about the soil around the spill? What is being done to remediate the area?

Answer: A lot. This is a separate issue from the water. The company has submitted a remediation plan to the TNRCC. That plan includes either removal or treatment of the soil. Either way, all MTBE will be removed from the spill site. That plan, by law, has to be approved by the TNRCC. We will request an expedited approval process to begin remediation. Remember the soil is almost 23 miles away from the lake. This situation does not involve the lake perimeter. The experts tell us it is impossible to create a situation, given all of the safeguards, that results in unacceptable levels of MTBE flowing to Lake Tawakoni with a future rain event. In addition, the water is being tested daily allowing all of the stakeholders the opportunity for a quick response. And contingency water treatment equipment has been identified that could be rapidly brought in as was done for West Lake Tawakoni.

Question: How long will it take to get rid of the soil?

Answer: Soil excavation began on April 11. We have started an accelerated schedule to rectify all of the issues related to the pipe rupture. We will request an expedited approval of the plan.

Question: What levels of MTBE are unacceptable?

Answer: Every state has its own standard. In Texas, regulators have said they believe that 15 micrograms per liter causes water to have an unpleasant taste and smell The City of Dallas says that threshold should be 0.67 micrograms per liter, 22 times lower. Dallas has very high standards for water, and we appreciate that. However, the next highest threshold level is Maryland at 10 micrograms per liter.

Question: You have said there is only a trace of the additive in some parts of the lake. How much is a trace?

Answer: A trace would be one teaspoon of sugar in over 1.2 million gallons of iced tea.

Question: Why is Dallas asking Explorer to fund construction of several new pipelines?

Answer: We are confused and surprised at that request because the MTBE level is now at non-detect. Some of the pipelines may already be slated for construction as part of the long-term water plan. We understand the city may want to speed up that process given the drought conditions Texas is facing. However, the pipes are not needed because of water conditions at Lake Tawakoni. The lake is safe.

Question: I heard that one consultant says that Lake Tawakoni is ruined. Is that true?

Answer: It is completely false. The person who said that either apparently doesn't understand the physical and chemical reactions of MTBE or the specifics of what happened here. It would be a terrible tragedy if one false opinion were allowed to destroy a lake, a community and a way of life.

Question: Why has the company decided to remove the soil from the site?

Answer: This is unusual but we are doing this at the request of the City of Dallas. MTBE is now at a "non-detect" level at the lake because 99% of it has already evaporated. However, we will take these steps as a good faith step to satisfy concerns raised by the City of Dallas.