Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone cleans up fuel storage, other sites with polluted soil, water

November 4, 2009, 11:09 am
Contractors have almost finished initial cleanup work at several sites around Yellowstone National Park where leaky underground fuel tanks had contaminated soil and groundwater over the past few decades.

Some of the polluted sites are near pristine waters, and while they did not pose an immediate threat to drinking water, it is important that they be cleaned up, said Jim Evanoff, environmental protection specialist for the park.

"The old Lake gas station is about 100 feet away from the shores of Yellowstone Lake. Those things needed to be cleaned up," said Evanoff, who is working with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality on the $3.5 million project.

Most of the 11 contamination sites are at service stations operated by concessionaires, and most of the leaks occurred or were discovered more than a decade ago, according to a DEQ engineering report.

They include gas stations at Grant Village, Bridge Bay Marina, Old Faithful, Lake, Canyon and Fishing Bridge, as well as a National Park Service maintenance facility at Canyon and a gas station at Pahaska Tepee, just outside the park's east entrance.

The buried fuel tanks are a small part of a mostly invisible infrastructure that runs throughout the developed sections of the nation's oldest national park, including water and power for many of Yellowstone's 1,500 buildings, Evanoff said.

Federal stimulus funds will cover the replacement of an aging wastewater treatment plant at Madison Junction, Evanoff said, adding that the facility was "probably the last dinosaur left in the park" among major legacy infrastructure projects.

Burying fuel tanks or utility lines can be tricky around Old Faithful, where geothermal activity makes the ground too hot in some places, Evanoff said.

But storing fuel above ground is not an option at many sites for safety or aesthetic reasons, and diesel fuel tanks must be buried to prevent the fuel from thickening during Yellowstone's extremely cold winters, he said.

Evanoff said fuel tank cleanup efforts are part of efforts by park managers to turn the page on many old practices in the park that would not meet current environmental standards.

That includes making a final decision on what to do, if anything, at 22 historic open dump sites and seven firing ranges inside the park, as specialists study whether it would do more harm than good to dig up some sites unused for decades.