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Greater Middletown area focus of big pipeline spill drill

Buckeyedrill2Photo by David Graybill -- Participants and observers of the pipeline spill drill held by Buckeye Partners check out a boom on the Susquehanna River off of Water Street in Londonderry Twp.

    Wondering what all those vehicles and people were doing at the boat launch in Middletown on Thursday, Nov. 5? Here's your answer.

    It was all part of a drill to simulate what would happen in case of a spill from a diesel pipeline into the Susquehanna River.

    The exercise was led by Buckeye Partners LP, a company that owns and operates pipelines and terminals throughout the United States, mostly in the midwest and northeast.

    Every year Buckeye picks one location throughout the United States for an exercise to test the company's ability to respond to a pipeline disaster.

    Last year, the exercise was held in the Everglades. This year, it is being held right here.

    In the scenario, a contractor running a backhoe punctures a Buckeye pipeline near Hill Island in the Susquehanna River. The accident sends an estimated 1,700 barrels worth of diesel fuel into the river.

    Buckeye as part of the drill deployed booms to try and capture the fuel as far south as Marietta in Lancaster County, said Craig Brown, executive director of engineering services for Buckeye Partners, and a spokesman for the company.

    The drill is being run out of a command center that was set up in the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center.

    It's a simulation, but the pipeline that runs along Hill Island is real.

    A map on the Buckeye Partners web site shows pipelines running through south central Pennsylvania. In addition, Buckeye Partners has a major operations and control center in Breinigsville, just outside Allentown.

    "Pennsylvania is one of the largest concentrations of both terminals and pipelines for Buckeye," Brown said.

    The greater Middletown area also offers unique challenges that would confront Buckeye in case of a real spill - like the nearby presence of Three Mile Island and Harrisburg International Airport, an official at the boat launch told the Press And Journal.

    Moreover, a spill here would impact navigatable waterways, "which doesn't occur everywhere," Brown said.

    An estimated 80 to 100 people participated in the exercise, including many from Buckeye Partners who flew into the area from all over the country.

    State and federal agencies represented at the drill included the U.S. Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the Governor's Office, Brown said. Local police, fire, and emergency management agencies were also involved.

    The exercise started on Wednesday, Nov. 4, and was to wrap up by 5 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 5.