Fuel leak in Lycoming County on its way downriver

Sean Philip Cotter

A big fuel leak in Lycoming County has put local municipalities along the Susquehanna River on the alert, but the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection doesn't anticipate it will significantly affect York County.

About 55,000 gallons of fuel has spilled into Loyalsock Creek close to where the tributary drains into the Susquehanna River near Williamsport, according to an alert sent out around noon Friday by the Pennsylvania’s Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network, or PaWARN.

After storms dropped more than six inches of rain on the northern part of the state Thursday night into Friday, flash floods and landslides caused an underwater Sunoco pipeline to apparently rupture early Friday morning right by Montoursville, according to a news release from the state DEP, which is working with the federal Department of Environmental Protection on this incident.

The Susquehanna River is seen looking north from Safe Harbor Dam last month. In 2011, American Rivers named the Susquehanna America's Most Endangered River.

PaWARN says that the pipeline has been shut off by a valve further away, which means that some more fuel that's already in the pipeline past the valve likely will also end up in the river. Because of that, and the fact that the pipe's underwater, PaWARN said, it's hard to determine quite how much fuel is in the water and will be headed downriver.

Jon Repetz, a spokesman for the office of the DEP that deals with the south-central part of the state, said that the effect this has on the river near York County should be minimal.

"We’re not anticipating really any impact at this point," he said Friday evening.

He said it will take until Tuesday for the plume of gasoline to get down here. Williamsport is around 100 miles from the York area as the crow flies, and the river's winding and wending makes it even farther.

Repetz said the spill isn't in the jurisdiction of his south-central office, so it isn't directly working on dealing with this, he said; the office, which covers from York County up to Juniata County, is just focusing on keeping the intake systems in its area up to date.

Wrightsville, for example, temporarily will stop pumping water from the river, said Phil Landis, the chairman of the borough municipal water authority. He said they will keep an eye on what's going on and follow DEP and Susquehanna River Basin Commission guidance on when to shut down the pump.

Landis stressed that this is not expected to be a big issue in this area, but when it comes to people's drinking water, "you err on the side of caution." He noted that the authority uses an old quarry as a water reserve, so they can have the pump off for quite a while if they need.

"We can go for a week on reserves if we have to," he said.

— Sean Cotter covers York City for The York Dispatch. Contact him atscotter@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.