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Posted 10/10/2013

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By Sara Corbett
Charleston District


A crisis can really test a team, and when there was an oil spill at the St. Stephen Powerhouse, the team there was tested… and they passed with flying colors.

September 16th started out like any normal day at the St. Stephen Powerhouse, but when Jim Carter, operations project manager, stepped outside, he noticed oil in the Rediversion Canal. Carter and the team at St. Stephen quickly put the recently updated Spill Response Plan into action. Within hours of the spill, a floating oil absorbent boom had been deployed to contain the spill, and the National Response Center, Santee Cooper, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Berkeley County had been notified of the spill.

“I had stepped outside around 8:00 a.m. to take a look around the dam and canal and immediately noticed the oil,” said Carter. “I alerted the team of the spill and quickly ceased all dam operations. We were able to contain the spill to just the entrance of the Rediversion Canal which drastically reduced the risk that the spill would have on fish, birds and the environment to the point that an impact is nearly non-existent.”

The turbines at the powerhouse generate power for more than 30,000 homes and must be cleaned regularly to keep them running smoothly. It was during this routine maintenance that the oil spill occurred. Transferring the oil back to the clean turbine is when the problem occurred; it leaked out of a valve that had been opened for cleaning.

Oil was taken out of one of the turbines in order to clean the turbine. When the oil was transferred back to the cleaned turbine, it leaked out of a valve that had been opened for cleaning.

“The oil was turbine governor hydraulic oil, which is considerably less toxic than most other petroleum products or fuels,” said Carter. “The type and the amount of oil make this a relatively minor spill with minimal impacts.”

By close of business that day, the Charleston District awarded a contract to Aerostar Environmental to clean up the spill. Aerostar Environmental mobilized that evening and immediately deployed a second floating oil absorbent boom as a back-up to keep the oil contained. The following morning, Aerostar Environmental began vacuuming the oil off the water and the entire clean-up was completed a mere 60 hours from the beginning of the incident.

“Thanks to the fast acting team at St. Stephen and the recently updated Spill Response Plan, this crisis was quickly resolved with almost no impacts,” said Brian Wells, chief of operations. “It was the best case scenario for a crisis.”

civil works environmental cleanup oil spill St. Stephen powerhouse