Unclear who is investigating oil leak and vandalism; community activist speaks out

Published: Feb. 8, 2022 at 12:48 AM EST
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BOONE COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Oil sits on top of the areas where the water pools on the Pond Fork River.

Maria Gunnoe is the director of a non-profit, Mother Jones Community Foundation, with a long list of awards for community activism in West Virginia. She has been capturing the oil leak the only way she can which is on video.

“I have seen a very clear sheen of oil and oil substance I’ll call it, on the river and it has a very pungent smell to it,” said Gunnoe.

Boone County firefighters, including the Van Fire Department, said they got a call from a concerned person Saturday afternoon when they also saw the sheen on the river.

“It’s everywhere that I know, from Bull Creek up in and through Madison. Every place that the water slows down, this is puddling up,” said Gunnoe.

Firefighters traced the leakage back to this transformer substation in the Jack’s Branch area.

They found the gate to the station cut open and the valve on a 5,000-gallon oil tank turned on and with oil flowing straight out with very little left.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection said the act of vandalism released mineral oil from the tank.

While looking out at the rainbow colored ripples, Gunnoe thinks of the kids she teaches to fish in these waters.

“Then I hear that it is mineral oil, it’s only mineral oil, and everything should be fine. I don’t agree with that and I would like full disclosure on it because our kids recreate in this water. We fish, we eat the fish, and we need to know,” said Gunnoe.

Boone County dispatch said no law enforcement was ever dispatched to the call, although EMS, fire, emergency management and the WV DEP were called out.

WSAZ followed up with both the Boone County Sheriff’s Office and the West Virginia State Police. Neither said they are part of any investigation.

“I absolutely believe that the person that done this, if its vandalism, no matter who done it they need to be held accountable,” said Gunnoe. “Because Boone County’s water, our stream, is now contaminated and it’s not only ours. This runs down the Coal River.”

Gunnoe lives five miles from where the spill happened. With her experience, she said this is one of the worst spills she has seen.

“That substation is not well secured, so anyone can go up in there. Anyone could have got into it and done the damage that has been done to our stream,” said Gunnoe.

The DEP said the Madison Fire Department put mats down at the substation to contain the oil near the tank.

It remains unclear how much oil was spilled and what, if any, law enforcement agency is investigating.

The DEP said they are doing stream tests and are working to ensure the spill is cleaned up.

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