How did it happen? Investigating the gasoline leak in Cayuga County

Police block of a road in light of a gasoline leak in Aurelius / photo by Alex Dunbar

One day after thousands of gallons of gasoline spilled in Cayuga County, there are still unanswered questions about how it happened.

Several homes in Aurelius had to be evacuated Tuesday after a ten inch pipeline carrying gasoline from Rochester to Cayuga county was cut open by a farmer installing drainage pipes. The pipeline is operated by energy company Buckeye Partners. At least three thousand gallons spilled out and gasoline pooled four or five inches deep in some spots. Mike Gabak lives next door to the spill. The health department is testing well water at his house and five other nearby homes for contamination. Gabak wants to know how something like this could happen.

"We're hoping everything will be all right. The health department is going to be out today to check everything," said Gabak.

How and if the the pipeline was marked is currently in dispute. When the Aurelius Fire Chief arrived on the scene on Tuesday, he says the farmer believed the area was safe to dig - and showed him a digital map on an iPad.

"He indicated on that iPad this is a GPS map he had received from Buckeye showed where Buckeye says their line is. he indicated where his tractor was on the map and indicated that pipeline shouldn't be where it is - in his words," said Chief David Nelson.

A spokesperson for Buckeye Partners says the area where the pipeline was cut was marked with "Dig Safe New York" flags that warn the area is not safe for digging.

"Buckeye's line was accurately marked after a one call was placed on July 28th. The accurate markings are still visible - the flags are still up there," said Colleen Kester from Buckeye.

Kester also said that while the flags were accurately placed, they had not been properly updated. New flags have to be placed every ten days on non-permanent work sites in New York. Kester said the last call to Dig Safe New York was on July 28th.

The Cayuga County Health Department is testing the well water of six homes in the area of the spill every day for the next week. Kester said the spill has been contained and crews will work with the DEC and Cayuga County on a full cleanup plan.

Buckeye will also do soil sampling to determine the full extant of the contamination and see if more testing of nearby properties is needed.