Potomac River Oil Spill – February 2016

Photo by Tusik Only

October 31, 2016 update: Dominion Virginia Power agreed to pay a $260,000 fine for two mineral oil spills earlier this year, including one this one that fouled a stretch of the Potomac River near Washington, D.C., and another one on a tributary of the Shenandoah River.

In early February, Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks began to receive reports of an oil spill on the Potomac River at Roaches Run Waterfowl Refuge and began an immediate investigation.

On February 5, Potomac Riverkeeper Network released this statement:

Potomac Riverkeeper Network is extremely concerned about the spill of thousands of gallons of oil into the Potomac River and the Roaches Run Waterfowl Refuge near the Pentagon. Over the past three days we have received numerous reports of oil sheens stretching ten miles down the Potomac, from Alexandria and Reagan airport southward. Our Potomac Riverkeeper was at the scene of the spill this morning, documenting responders’ efforts to capture oiled birds as well as the continued flow of oil out of the refuge lagoon into the Potomac.  While we don’t know the full extent and cause of the spill, we call on the Coast Guard, DC Department of Environment and Virginia DEQ to investigate and prosecute the party responsible for this ongoing pollution of our nation’s river.

Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks continued on-site investigations and posted regular updates on Facebook:

Dead fish surrounded by oil sheens
Oil Spill Response Unit out collecting birds affected by oil

Febraury 6: The tide was going out of Waterfowl Sanctuary and the oil was still very visibly flowing into Potomac River. The lead agency Coast Guard coordinating with Arlington and other agencies to identify myriad of storm pipes entering Sanctuary. Eighteen waterfowl covered with oil were being rehabilitated.

Coast Guard said this is non-recoverable, organic matter mixing with oil. It filled the small tributaries, such as the one just below the 2nd boom, near boat ramp at Gravelly Point. Hope waterfowl avoid these areas.


February 7: Went back out again to Roaches Run and oil was still flowing out of Waterfowl Sanctuary, over oil booms into the Potomac River. Waterfowl covered in oil still being recovered for rehabilitation.


February 10: Went back out to Roaches Run and oil was finally getting better but still a visible sheen. 29 birds had been recovered. Coast Guard saying likely a fuel oil. Apparently the Coast Guard’s initial sample came back as falling within a very broad spectrum of oils categorized by CG as “fuel oil” but this doesn’t mean they identified it as diesel, or bunker fuel, light or heavy refined petroleum. It could be any one of those, or a mixture of more than one. They took additional samples and were waiting results, but it very well could turn out that samples were all low quality samples and get classified as “Unresolved Complex Mixture” (UCM) which is very hard to fingerprint, because of its varied constituents.

This also does not rule out transformer oil as originally reported, which also could still be the source. Press conference was scheduled for Friday.

On January 24, 13,000 gallons of mineral oil spilled from a transformer at Dominion’s power substation in Crystal City, not far from Roaches Run. Dominion initially denited the oil spill in the Potomac River was from this spill.


Dean’s foot showing oil sheen still visible 2/12/2016

February 12: Yesterday, Dominion Power held a press conference at 3:00 pm denying responsibility for an oil spill that killed 21 birds, fouled a waterfowl sanctuary and caused an 8 mile long oil sheen in the Potomac River. By 6:00 pm the company accepted responsibility.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer David Marin said a lab confirmed that samples of the sheen taken in Roaches Run off the Potomac matched samples from an oil leak at Dominion’s Crystal City Substation located near a storm drain. “All four samples that we collected are coming from the same source,” said U.S. Coast Guard Commander, Michael Keane.

“Potomac Riverkeeper demands an EPA investigation into Dominion. 21 dead birds, 32 recovered. Oil still clearly visible. Virginia DEQ clearly failing to investigate Dominion nor seems willing to enforce clean water laws!” – Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks