UPDATE (Dec. 17, 3:26 p.m. PST) — The city of Salem has shut off water from the North Santiam River, activating its groundwater and reservoir supply after a tanker truck carrying 11,500 gallons of gas crashed near Idanha, Oregon, Friday evening, spilling an unknown amount of gasoline into the river.
The crash occurred sometime after 11 p.m. on Highway 22, about 100 yards upstream from where Pamelia Creek enters the North Santiam River, the primary source of drinking water for more than 170,000 residents in Salem, Oregon.
Water from the river is also used by the city of Albany and 18 additional public water systems.
“There are areas saturated on both sides of the road and gas is still seeping into the river,” said Katherine Benenati, a public affairs specialist with DEQ, Saturday afternoon.
Heather Dimke, a management analyst with the city of Salem, said the city shut off its supply from the river as a precaution.
“There was not an immediate concern of threat. I believe they made the decision to ease public concern,” Dimke said. “We have days and days of supply outside of the river, so that’s what we’re doing at least through the weekend and we’re going to continue to monitor.”
No fuel had been recovered by Saturday afternoon, though efforts to place oil spill booms to begin fuel recovery were underway. Environmental Protection Agency crews were on scene as of Saturday night. Benenati said the EPA plans to take water samples and test for petroleum products. She said the samples will be analyzed within 24 hours and should be available by Tuesday, accounting for turnaround time.
Oregon State Police said the crash occurred after the truck lost traction on black ice.
The fuel tank overturned, ruptured and caught fire, killing the driver, who police identified as 58-year-old Ronald Scurlock of Bend.
The fire spread into nearby brush. About 300 feet of Highway 22 was affected by the crash. The Oregon Department of Transportation closed Highway 22 between Detroit and Idanha, Oregon, where traffic was backed up as of Saturday afternoon.
ODOT said the 4.4-mile stretch of the highway will be closed indefinitely while crews assess the damage to the road.
“We have traffic backed up,” said Lou Torres, an ODOT spokesperson. “There is damage to the road, so we’re going to have to do some work to make it passable.”
The tanker was owned by Bend-based Central Petro Inc. an independent petroleum transportation company.
A fire department engine responding to the crash Friday night also overturned due to icy conditions. Minor injuries were reported.
Torres said black ice is one of the most treacherous driving conditions, “because you don’t notice it until it’s too late.”
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect the type of petroleum product spilled.