Utilities workers unearth leaky gas tank in Selbyville

Date Published: 
April 14, 2017

A forgotten underground fuel tank in Selbyville was discovered to be leaking gasoline, officials reported this week.

Coastal Point • Tyler Valliant: One day after an old underground fuel tank was discovered to be leaking petroleum in Selbyville, workers began the process of removing the contaminated soil at 79 W. Church Street on April 12.Coastal Point • Tyler Valliant: One day after an old underground fuel tank was discovered to be leaking petroleum in Selbyville, workers began the process of removing the contaminated soil at 79 W. Church Street on April 12.On Tuesday, April 11, Chesapeake Utilities was digging for a natural-gas line when workers exposed the saturated soil and tank.

By Wednesday morning, the entirety of the tank hadn’t yet been uncovered, so it could be any size or age. There’s also no telling how far the gasoline may have spread underground.

Councilman Richard “Rick” Duncan Sr. said the tank was located at 79 W. Church Street, at the corner of Baker Alley, which used to be a car dealership and, later, a beauty salon.

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control sent a hazardous-materials team to the site, and the agency’s tank management section will also provide leadership in dealing with the issue.

On Tuesday night, the site was covered with plastic and new soil to prevent the pungent gasoline odor from seeping upward.

DNREC officials were unable to comment with further details before the Coastal Point’s press deadline on Wednesday, but workers were on-site that morning.

It’s too early to say just who will pay for remediation.

DNREC could remove the tank completely, Duncan said. Or, they could simply remove the gasoline and contaminated soil, but leave the tank itself underground and out of the way.

“The Town, on our side, we’d like to see it removed,” Duncan said.

Duncan wondered if the tank was actually the hazard that the Town of Selbyville has been looking for. The Town and State have been trying to determine the source of groundwater contaminants — particularly gasoline additive methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE).

However, there could be other unknown variables or other gas tanks still contributing to the contamination.

While visiting Selbyville in 2016, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) explained that, decades ago, the government had successfully reduced smog by requiring that MTBE be added to gasoline. But modern science is still learning how MTBE contaminants behave and affect groundwater.

Selbyville has received more than $3 million in state and federal funding to build a second water plant that uses evaporation to strip MTBE and other volatile organics from the water. The plant should be completed by late May.

Although this leak isn’t considered an emergency, like a full-blown gusher would be, Town Hall doesn’t want to take any chances. After digging new wells, only to find hints of further contamination, the Selbyville Town Council are feeling very protective of the town’s drinking water.