Divers, Coast Guard Prevented Huge Oil Spill During Flood
By Ben Hall Investigative Reporter
As the flood waters rose, a frantic fight was underway to prevent huge fuel tanks from being swept into the Cumberland River. Scuba divers joined the U.S. Coast Guard in a behind the scenes battle to prevent an oil spill in Nashville.
NewsChannel5 Investigates had exclusive access to one of Nashville's largest fuel terminals.
Marathon Oil showed us the place where trucks line up each day to get fuel and take it to local gas stations.
"Everything you see here was under water from the river all the way back to the interstate," said Mike Easterday as he pointed to an aerial map of the terminal.
"That's about seven feet on the tank," said Easterday, as he pointed to a water line.
The largest of the tanks holds two million gallons of fuel and they float. If the current had swept them away, they could have crashed into a downtown bridge.
"That was foremost my concern," said Hunter McWilliams with the U.S. Coast Guard. "I was tasked with making sure these things didn't lift off the ground and make their way into the river."
The Coast Guard joined in a full fledge fight to prevent the worst. Marathon Oil brought in its disaster response team which included scuba divers.
"The divers assisted us in setting up a system to pump water into any of the tanks that had lower levels," said Easterday.
The water made the tanks heavier and harder for the current to sweep into the river.
Scuba divers also checked on the pipes to the tanks because most of them were underwater. Divers shut off certain valves along the pipes.
"I've been in this business nearly 30 years and never seen anything like this. It's unprecedented," said Easterday.
The company also put up containment barriers around the tanks just in case there was a leak.
There are nine fuel terminals around Nashville, and they all took on water. Industry executives said if the public had panicked and made a run on gas stations, there would have been a gasoline shortage, but luckily that didn't happen.
City leaders worked to prevent another post Hurricane Ike run on gas stations and kept a close eye on Nashville's gasoline supply.
"We knew that supply would be disrupted and could cause some issues," said Easterday.
Marathon's terminal stayed closed for more than 12 days. It was open on Thursday, but there was still see mud on the pipes that were under water.
The trucks are back in line, and gas is flowing again. Everyone feels like they dodged a bullet.
State and federal regulators said there were no major leaks or problems. They praised Marathon Oil for its response. They said this was an example of people working together to prevent a disaster.