Eight years after a major fuel release was discovered at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield, the Oasis Fuel Point is once again up and running – supplying vital hot re-fueling operations for 10th Combat Aviation Brigade aircraft.
The accidental release of JP-8 fuel into the ground was discovered in December 2006.
Since then, Fort Drum’s environmental team has worked alongside the Defense Energy Support Center and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Environmental Remediation to remove the fuel and treat groundwater affected by the spill.
James Miller, Environmental Division chief, explained that a variety of different technologies are being used in the cleanup efforts.
Some of the recovered fuel is free product – fuel that is 99 percent pure and is being reused.
“It’s been used in ground transportation,” Miller said. “Right now, today, it’s being burned for space heating – for homes, actually – so it’s really good stuff.”
Other cleanup methods are focused on removing the dissolve-phase plume – small amounts of fuel that have dissolved into the groundwater.
“Since the beginning of the cleanup effort, we’ve cleaned 252,000 gallons of fuel that have been removed from the ground,” Miller said. “Outstanding progress has been made.”
Miller said that the environmental team hopes to be able to reach New York state ground water table standards by 2017.
In the meantime, a completely re-engineered fueling system went online this April. The system includes a multitude of specially engineered safety measures, aimed at ensuring that a fuel leak situation cannot occur again.
“We have a $14.6 million military construction project to replace the fuel system that leaked and caused this major spill,” Miller said. “We’re very proud of this system in the sense of how many environmental controls we have in place.”
The underground piping in the system is secondarily contained. In the event of a leak from the primary fuel line, the fuel would be captured in the secondary lines, diverted to monitored pits and would signal an alarm at the fire station.
The above-ground storage tanks also are state-of-the-art, Miller explained. The double-walled tanks sit within a steel berm – a raised barrier separating two areas. This berm sits within a concrete area that serves as an additional barrier.
“The likelihood of a spill ever leaving the tank and making it into the environment is exceedingly small,” Miller said. “We have put many engineering controls in place to prevent a release (and) to detect a release if it were to occur.”
The new system also includes a built-in system that can detect a leak as small as .08 gallons per hour. Fort Drum also has a contract with a professional contractor who performs all preventative maintenance, inspections and routine maintenance on the system.
Out at the Oasis site, pipes continue to pump fuel out of the ground, as helicopters land at the newly re-designed stations.
Joe White, Aviation Division chief, explained that a portion of the fuel point is not usable at present, but that four of the six fuel points are back up and running.
“We are trying to, basically, work out of this facility at the same time as we clean up,” he said.
It was vital that the Oasis Fuel Point be restored, White said, in order to support the mission of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.
“The hot-fueling Oasis is designed specifically to enhance time on the aircraft getting re-fueled,” White said. “It’s a tactical type of mission that allows the aircraft to re-fuel while they’re still running.”
As aircraft approach, they communicate with the tower personnel, who send a team of petroleum supply Soldiers out to meet the aircraft. This highly trained team refuels the helicopters so that they can quickly return to their training missions.
Sgt. 1st Class Jason Boyer, support operations noncommissioned officer in charge and petroleum supply specialist, said that in addition to the training that petroleum supply specialists undergo through the Army, they complete a five-day training exercise upon arriving at Fort Drum. This training is aimed at ensuring that the highest standards of safety are met at Fort Drum so that 10th CAB Soldiers can continue to complete their mission without interruption.
These refueling teams keep very busy.
“On average, we do about 140 to 160 aircraft a week through here, and we fuel about 20,000 to 30,000 gallons of fuel into the aircraft every week,” White said.
Not having to shut down and restart the aircraft is a much more efficient manner of operating, he explained.
Miller calls the new system a Cadillac, adding that it was very important to the Army and to Fort Drum’s environmental team that every possible safeguard and measure of protection available be employed in the reconstruction of the Oasis Fuel Point.
“The Army and Fort Drum – we built the best possible system that we could going forward,” Miller said.