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March 10, 2000, 9:46PM Crews work to clean up massive pipeline leak CADDO MILLS (AP) -- Crews were working into the night Friday in a muddy wheat field and wading through a gasoline-filled creek to clean up a massive East Texas pipeline leak. A thunderstorm bore down on federal and state environmental workers who worked to clean up about 500,000 gallons of gasoline Friday from a pipeline that burst the day before. "It is just too flammable. We need to get it up as quickly as possible," said Greg Fife, on-scene coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Monitors with Tulsa, Okla.-based Explorer Pipeline Co., owner and operator of the pipeline, noticed a sharp drop in pressure about 11 p.m. Thursday. The pipeline was sealed off remotely and officials with the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission said crews had the leak under control by 9 a.m. Friday. Authorities said they did not know what caused the break in the pipe, which is 4 feet under ground.

"We were not shutting down or starting up. We hadn't opened or closed a valve; we were just pumping," said Scott Van Dyke, president of Explorer Pipeline. Fife said the break appeared to be caused by a mechanical failure that may have been created by the shrink and swell of the soil. The break occurred in a section of the company's pumping system that runs from Tulsa, Okla., to Port Arthur. The pipeline was built in 1973 and last tested in 1997, and Van Dyke said he did not know the results of the test. But he said the pipeline had been worked on recently.

Federal investigators were on their way to the site Friday to inspect the rupture, Fife said.

The heavy rain washed the gasoline into Caddo Creek, making the cleanup easier, but also longer. Workers dammed off a two-mile stretch of the creek to contain the mix of gasoline and rainwater. "It kind of sped things up. ... If the weather holds like this we've got it good," Fife said. The cleanup equipment includes pumps that vacuum the fuel into trucks, and booms, which are physical barriers that float and help contain the spill.

Fife said he expected workers to finish cleaning up any standing gasoline by this evening, but that removing contaminated soil and testing for groundwater contamination could take a week.

-- charlie (, March 11, 2000

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