Army Corps of Engineers: Lower Snake River Dam May Have Spouted 300-Gallon Oil Spill


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports that a dam on the Lower Snake River has potentially spilled 200-300 gallons of oil into the river after one of the turbines spouted a leak. While the leak has not been confirmed, the Army Corps has said that is likely what happened.

“The NRC, the EPA and the Washington Department of Ecology were all notified,” said Army Corps Spokesman Joe Saxon. “We take every leak seriously.”

One of the turbines on the Lower Monumental Dam on the Lower Snake River is reportedly missing the oil. The turbine unit has been taken offline and will not be restored until the issue is resolved, Saxon said. The cause of the leak is undetermined at this time.

“Unfortunately, there are no direct means to detect a leak from our turbine runners,” Saxon said. “As in this case, the leak was too small to produce a visible sheen, making it more difficult to detect.”

While the river is flowing at 13 million gallons per minute, Saxon said any amount of oil spilled into the river is too much.

“In terms of prevention, we are ensuring seals are replaced when needed while working toward identifying improved seal technologies that work better on our aging turbine runners,” Saxon said. “We are also seeking better ways to meter our oil transfers to improve our accuracy which can improve our accountability for early identification of oil releases.”

Environmental groups along the Columbia and Lower Snake River corridors are criticizing the Army Corps and stating that this further makes the case for breaching the aging dams.

“These four aging dams are driving Snake River salmon and steelhead, and orcas that depend on them, toward extinction,” Joseph Bogaard, Executive Director of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, stated in a release. “Instead of continuing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to keep these high-cost, low-value dams limping along, we should invest in clean energy and economic development for communities that would be affected by dam removal.”

An attorney for conservation group Columbia Riverkeeper also cited the potential spill as another reason to remove the dam.

“Shockingly, the Army Corps faces no penalties for fouling the Snake River with toxic oil,” Miles Johnson, Senior Attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper, stated in the release. “Oil pollution from Lower Monumental Dam is just one more reason to remove the four obsolete, aging dams on the lower Snake River.”