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Oil Spill at MIT Power Plant under Investigation

By Rima Arnaout

An oil spill at MIT’s Cogeneration Plant Sunday night has prompted an investigation.

The spill occurred when an 8000 gallon oil truck was making a routine delivery behind the Cogen plant on Albany Street.

Thomas C. Sobczynski ’01 arrived at the scene at about 11 p.m. on Sunday. “Things were pretty calm there, but the streets were being blocked off in pretty much all directions. There was a Cambridge Police cruiser parked across the road and other cruisers nearby,” Sobczynski said.

There was “a reasonably small puddle of oil on the ground near the terminals where they connect the tanker trucks which fill up the tanks in the building,” Sobczynski said. The puddle outside the building “was about ten feet by six feet,” he said.

Sobczynski talked to a fireman at the scene. The fireman “told me they were estimating 8000 gallons spilled and that they weren’t sure how much oil was already under the building.”

According to Sobczynski, the fireman said that two tanks are connected with a pipe so that pressure in one tank is relieved into the other tank. “The fireman suggested that the pipe could have been or was blocked and that the pipe burst and started dumping oil on the floor,”

Conflicting reports on size of spill

Assistant Chief Engineer at the Department of Facilities George Mac Leod declined to comment about the exact amount of oil spilled but said that it was much less than the truck’s 8000-gallon capacity.

“There was delivery of fuel at the time... normally delivery trucks carry 8000 gallons of oil,” however less than that amount was spilled, Mac Leod said.

Some oil spilled outside but “the oil that was a little bit larger in quantity was inside the building,” Mac Leod said. The tanks that store the oil sit under the Cogen building.

MIT hired Clean Harbors to clean the accident. “They were contracted to do the cleanup of the spill. They’re an emergency response group,” Mac Leod said.

The spill “had no environmental impact on anybody that I know of; it was something that was discovered early and contained,” Mac Leod said.

Investigation now underway

Mac Leod is a member of the group investigating the cause of the spill. A report about the accident will be ready by the end of week.

Mac Leod declined to give details about the investigation to find the cause of the spill, saying that the committee is still trying to ascertain who took what actions during the delivery.

The oil delivery team is employed by MIT. “The truck is a contract service. They’re fully insured and regulated. They’re a bona fide delivery service,” Mac Leod said.

An article in the Boston Globe “talked about a clogged pipeline and I don’t know who told them that. It may have been an assumption,” Mac Leod said.

Except for the investigation, the spill has been taken care of, Mac Leod said. Managing the spill “was a fairly swift operation. It was cleaned up that night because it wasn’t a large quantity of oil that was spilled,” he said.

MIT’s oil imports depend on the weather and the amount of fuel needed. MIT buys oil “when gas is not available because of supply or price,” Macleod said.

Energy service not interrupted

The day after the oil spill some on-campus residents noticed that their dorms were colder than usual.

Mac Leod, however, said there was no connection between the low temperatures in Baker and other residence halls “because we didn’t lose any steam supply. There was no interruption of service as a result of the spill.”