An above ground storage tank located in south-central Washington state recently leaked as much as 1,500 gallons of used motor oil into a creek that flows into the Yakima River, a water source crucial to the state’s agricultural status as an apple-growing hub.

According to a March 2 Reuters article, the cause of the spill is still under investigation. Steel storage tanks with capacities exceeding 1,100 gallons are required to have corrosion protection in place on the tanks’ floor during storage tank construction. The tank is located at a former feed lot near Sunnyside; evidence of the leak was found in the water as far as 15 miles away from the site.

The state Department of Ecology warned that the leak is a major threat to the area’s hundreds of species of otters, beavers, waterfowl, and fish as well as its apple orchards and other crops. At least 50 ducks, geese, and other waterfowl covered in oil from the leak have been found, the Seattle Times reported.

In addition to working with a subcontractor to save the birds and other animals found covered in the oil, the Department of Ecology is also working round the clock to clean up the spill in time for the start of irrigation in a few weeks. 

“In a couple of weeks, the canals will all be full and (farmers) will be watering their crops and their orchards, so we want to get this cleaned up,” Joye Redfield-Wilder, a Department of Ecology spokeswoman, explained. 

To clean up the above ground storage tank’s spill, crews from NRC Environmental Services are using absorbent pads, protective booms, and vacuum pumps — and the work is far from over. Workers have also set up protective barriers in the Sulphur Creek and Yakima River to contain the oil.

It’s unclear just how much the cleanup efforts will cost the state of Washington. 

What are your thoughts on this story? Was there anything the steel tank owners or operators could have done to prevent this leak? Share your thoughts and reactions with us in the comments below.