by Max Brantley
North Little Rock officials report that thieves who broke into an electric transformer construction site on Highway 391 near Galloway to steal copper parts caused a released of 2,500 gallons of mineral oil, some of which ran into a nearby body of water.
The North Little Rock Electric Department learned this morning of damage to one of its transformers on Hwy. 391 near Galloway. Vandals broke into the transformer and stole copper parts out of it sometime between 12 p.m. Monday, Dec. 12 and 9 a.m. today.
“What we understand right now is that locks to the transformer were cut, and the vandals removed access panels on top of the equipment in order to remove the copper—likely in order to then sell it,” said Mike Russ, general manager of the North Little Rock Electric Department (NLRED). “To get to the copper, the vandals had to drain approximately 2,500 gallons of mineral oil from the transformer, which pooled around the area. A small amount of the oil flowed into a backwater body of water nearby. When we discovered the spill, we contacted the police, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, and a clean-up company to start cleaning the site.”
The transformer was part of a new substation still under construction, and the oil within it was pure mineral oil, which contains no PCBs or other contaminants. An NLRED employee noticed the damage to the transformer this morning during a routine check of the site.
After the incident was reported to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the North Little Rock Police Department, it was then reported to the National Response Center, which notified the Environmental Protection Agency.
The clean-up is being handled by United States Environmental Services (USES), a private, hazardous materials and oil-spill response team that has worked with the City of North Little Rock, Entergy, various railroads and other entities in cleaning and removing oil spills. It is estimated about 2,500 gallons of the mineral oil spilled into the area, and 200-400 gallons dripped into the backwater body of water next to the site of the transformer. USES maintains it will be able to remove most of the oil by the end of day today by using boats, blowers, vacuums and a boom to extract it. Because the oil is a pure mineral oil, it floats on top of the water, making it easy to clean up, and because there is no current through the impacted drainage pond, the oil should not spread to other areas.
“Our priority right now is to remove as much oil as possible from the area and the water as well as secure the substation,” Russ said. “As we learn more about the break-in, we will update citizens on the situation.”