An above-ground tank farm at the 2700 block of North Olive Street in Signal Hill spilled 42,000 gallons of crude oil and water onto streets near Long Beach Memorial Medical Center on Tuesday, causing authorities to block off a section of Atlantic Avenue between Willow and Spring streets for nearly two days as crews cleaned up the area. The spill was contained shortly after the incident was reported at 7:59am on Oct. 23, said Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Quvondo Johnson. He said a high-pressure line was pumping a mixture of crude oil and water into a tank when it overflowed. Although the tank is fitted with a catch basin to capture excess spillover, some of the oil and water seeped into the storm drain, while a majority of it poured out onto nearby streets and a parking lot.
Approximately 25 firefighters responded to the spill, in addition to the Los Angeles County Health Hazardous Materials team and representatives from the California Department of Fish and Game and the US Coast Guard.
Kevin Laney, president of Oil Operators, Inc., which owns the tank farm, said the spill was caused by an alarm system malfunction that led to the tank overfilling. He said a tank farm is a facility that gathers water from oil wells. The water is processed from the facilities and either goes into the sewer or into the tidelands area. A residual amount of crude oil is skimmed off the top at processing plants and accumulates over time in tanks, such as the one that overflowed.
Although some of the oil made it into the storm drain, the company immediately called out a spill-response contractor that stopped the oil from reaching the Los Angeles River, Laney said, adding that the oil leakage was stopped at Long Beach Boulevard, where contractors sucked up the oil using a vacuum truck. All streets have since been cleaned up, in addition to some car tires that needed cleaning, he said. Oil Operators, Inc. is currently in the process of steam-cleaning the storm drain system, which should be completed in the next few days, Laney said. He said no agencies have mentioned imposing any fines regarding the incident.
Signal Hill City Councilmember Larry Forester applauded all local agencies and the oil company for working together to contain what could have been an environmental disaster, adding that Signal Hill Public Works Department was the first on the scene. “Everybody jumped and jumped real quickly,” he said. “The public works department jumped immediately and started damming … and Oil Operators, Inc. got a clean-up crew in there, and they were very responsible for the accident.”