Oil spill on campus, environmental impact being assessed

Environmental services crews working on scene at Stanley Hall on the UC Berkeley campus Sunday at around 1:00 pm. Photos: Tracey Taylor

Update, 12.12.11, 9:20 am: UC Berkeley reports that emergency crews on Sunday removed hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel from Stanley Hall. About 1,700 gallons of fuel spilled within the building, with some fuel reaching Strawberry Creek and a smaller amount making its way to San Francisco Bay. Stanley Hall reopened Monday morning in time for the beginning of final exams.

If members of the public see fuel that may be pooling as a result of the spill, they are asked to avoid touching it, and should report it to (510) 664-4406.

We will continue to provide updates on this story.

[See update at foot of story.]

Emergency crews were on the scene Sunday morning cleaning up a diesel fuel spill that occurred Saturday evening at Stanley Hall on the UC Berkeley campus after what appears to be a pump valve failure.

Staff from East Bay Regional Parks were also assessing the extent of the spill which has flowed into Strawberry Creek. Other agencies called to the incident include UCPD, Berkeley Fire Department, the Coast Guard, and crews from the campus Environmental Health and Safety and Physical Plant.

The clean-up operation began on Saturday night after the diesel spill was discovered, and continued Sunday

The incident forced the closure of the Stanley building, which houses Cal’s bioengineering department, after gallons of fuel spilled into the basement and out through pumps to Strawberry Creek, according to a UC Berkeley News Center posting.

The odor of diesel oil could clearly be smelled close to the Stanley Building which is on the north eastern section of campus.

The university is hoping Stanley Hall will reopened by Monday at 7:30 a.m. so that final exams can take place there as scheduled.

Berkeleyside will report back with developments.

Update, 4:47 pm: UC Berkeley issued the following press release at 4:38 pm Sunday:

Diesel fuel spill clean-up continues
BERKELEY — Emergency crews on Sunday, Dec. 11, removed hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel from a University of California, Berkeley, building where equipment failure caused a diesel tank to overflow. On Saturday evening, Dec. 10, about 1,700 gallons of fuel spilled within Stanley Hall, with some fuel reaching Strawberry Creek and a smaller amount making its way to San Francisco Bay.

Crews continue to monitor the situation, are laying down materials to both contain and absorb the diesel, and are using special trucks and equipment to vacuum up the fuel.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, a campus police officer noticed an off odor coming from Strawberry Creek, and employees from the campus’s Office of Environment, Health and Safety (EH&S) and Physical Plant-Campus Services investigated. They discovered that a diesel fuel tank in Stanley Hall had overflowed as fuel was being transferred from a larger nearby storage tank. The fuel in the tank is used to power an emergency generator for the building. The exact cause of this equipment failure is not yet known.

The leak was contained at about 9 p.m. Saturday. Campus crews shut off the source of the leak and immediately contacted federal, state, local and city authorities. If members of the public see fuel that may be pooling as a result of the spill, they are asked to avoid touching it, but should report it to (510) 664-4406.

Campus officials continue to work closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Coast Guard and California Department of Fish and Game.

Mark Freiberg, EH&S director, said that the coordinating agencies are closely monitoring the area for impacts to wildlife.

Stanley Hall, a large research and classroom building, remains closed due to the clean-up efforts, but EH&S and campus crews are monitoring conditions to verify that the building is safe for reoccupancy on Monday.

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  • Ginger

    A mile downstream, at Strawberry Creek Park, I could smell the chemicals from the creek; it was alarming.

  • guest

    EPA says no fuel reached the bay, but its not true. UCB tgook 12+ hours to get clean up crews out, never put out a boom to prevent the flow downstream, and residents saw fuel by the mouth of the creek at the Bay.

  • Stacy

     We live right on top of Strawberry Creek in West Berkeley. Sunday morning the smell of fuel in our car, parked over night above the storm drain, was so strong I had to air it out, while I searched the neighborhood for the possible source. I never considered the creek to be contaminated. 

  • TN

    I walked through the park this morning. I could smell the diesel fumes and there was sheen in the water. Several booms had been placed in the creek to try to capture the fuel.

  • Alan A.

    We smelled it in our neighborhood and on our walk to Strawberry Creek Park.  When I got back I told my neighbor who called it in and told us about the spill.  He has the creek running through his backyard, so he let us in and sure enough we could see the sheen on the water and the smell in the air.

  • Maryduan

    My former neighbors report smelling the diesel around 8pm Saturday and being blown off and ignored by University officials. They went to the creek and spent until about 2am Sunday trying to clean. University didn’t show up until later.