Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sand Creek Petroleum Discharge Time Line

I have seen several news reports that have the time-line totally muddled on the Sand Creek petroleum discharge.  They indicate that the seep, spill, slick or whatever term you would prefer started Monday morning which is wrong.  As a matter of fact the issue was first identified and communicated to authorities by me Sunday morning and could have been going on for weeks before that.

Here is what I know of the time-line.  This is in more detail than any of my readers would care about but I feel like I need to preserve and publish this information.  I can look some times up precisely on my cell phone.  Others I have to estimate.

SUNDAY November 27th 2010
1)  Approximately 9:00 AM - I arrived at the Sand Creek / Denver South Platte confluence and started fishing.  I got a hint of a petroleum smell almost immediately but brushed it off.  I was in the worst smelling square mile of Metro Denver after all.
2)  Approximately 9:30 AM - I waded across the South Platte below the 270 bridge and got hit by a really strong odor about half way across and then noticed a sheen on the top.  As I started to investigate I noticed more and more signs of an issue and finally isolated it to Sand Creek.
3)  Precisely 10:03 AM:  I made my first call to information in search of the CDPHE hotline.
4)  Precisely 10:16 AM:  I placed the call to the duty officer with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment hotline.  He asked if he could call me back in 20 minutes.  I got offended and rudely said no.  He sincerely apologized and took the information.  I apologized for being rude about it.  I then moved to a different section of the South Platte to continue fishing.
5)  Precisely 11:03 AM:  I received a call indicating that somebody was on their way. 
6)  Somewhere between then and 2:14:  I received a call from somebody at the 74th avenue bridge (well down-river) indicating that they did not see anything and wanting to know where to go from there.  My cellphone tracked this as a duplicate received call and won't give me the precise time.
7)  Precisely at 2:14 AM:  I received a call from somebody standing on the pedestrian bridge spanning the bridge below the confluence indicating that he did not see any sheen in the water.  I told him that he needed to get down and walk up Sand-Creek.
5)  Precisely 3:08PM:  I used "received calls" to call back and ask if he has walked Sand Creek and seen anything.  He indicated that he did walk up the creek and did not see any sheen.  I asked if I called the correct people.  He assured me that I did.  I foolishly assumed that the discharge had concluded and dissipated.  It clearly had not.  Either he did not know what to look for or the discharge had only temporarily stopped.
6)  Sunday evening I made a blog post about the incident.

MONDAY November 28th 2011:
I don't know all the mechanisms that may have helped get the ball rolling but I do know the following:   
1)  At some point Gregg (Hero #1, a friend of Fly-Carpin) from Idaho contacted Bruce Finley at the Denver Post about my blog post.
2)  Bruce Finley (Hero #2) contacted the EPA.  Here is Bruce's latest article on the spill.
3)  Mitigation started sometime Monday evening.

Nobody has a clue how long it was going on prior to Sunday but from the first call it was just under a 4 hour on-the-scene first-response time and something on the order of a day and a half delay before mitigation started.  Furthermore if Gregg and Bruce Finley hadn't heroically stepped in it would probably still be flowing because the first response failed to confirm the issue.

Clearly the delay in response and verification of the issue is not my fault.  This is not my job and people who should be trained professionals and who's job it is were put in a position to perform that job.  Nevertheless, while I hope to never find myself in this position again with hindsight this is what I will do next time to more pro-actively force the issue:

1)  Pushed for an estimated time of arrival.
2)  Gotten clear of the fumes but stayed in the general area.
3)  Met up with the first responder to show him exactly what to look for.
4)  I am presuming that I would have been able to convince him of the issue if I was present.  If not, start calling the press and the EPA immediately.


  1. McTage,
    I'm unfamiliar with Denver. Does sand creek itself contain a fishery of some sorts? It obviously once did. I read Mr. Finley's articles, he did do an admirable job. If the general populace realizes this goes far past a fisherman's concerns, and threatens human health, (which I know you are also very cognizant of,) something may be done to help insure this doesn't happen again.
    I hope so, Gregg

  2. I have been following this on 9news.com. Thanks to you some action will be taken to clean up this horrible accident.

  3. Lonny,
    This was a pretty big deal it seems. McTage was very concerned and I simply thought I could try something, anything. I only hope someone or someones are held accountable. There is no room in today's world for gross polution of this scale, we should be better as a people. Anyway, thanks Lonny.

  4. Of course it's not your fault! And based on what transpired, I don't think you should have any reason to second guess your actions either.

  5. Lonny and Gregg - Thanks for the support.

    MG - No worries mate. I aint beating myself over the head about it, but as an engineer who believes in continious improvement with a passion I just think that as soon as possible in a situation like this ALL parties involved should sit back and condsider what the could do better next time. I only have control over one party which is me :)

  6. My hat is off to you for the original report and the report on the blog. Many people would have turned away!

  7. Cofisher - That has highlighted to me how important sportsmen, outdoorsmen are. Who knows, If I was not so intimately familiar with and passionate about this river I may have turned away myself out of ignorance if nothing else.


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