How would emergency crews and health officials react to a massive jet fuel spill at the Sparks tank farm? A drill on Tuesday allowed crews to work out emergency plans should a massive earthquake cause such a hazardous spill at the farm, located along Interstate 80.
To meet federal emergency preparedness standards, the tank farm each year goes through a low-, medium- or high-level disaster drill with the Sparks Fire Department, Washoe County District Health Department and Sparks Environmental Control, among others.
"The annual drills test 15 different action items over the course of three years to prove to the federal agencies we can respond to any emergency we have," said Wally Stevenson, area manager for Kinder Morgan Inc., owner and operator of the Sparks fuel tank farm. "This year, it is our worst-case scenario."
The drill scenario involved a massive spill of JP-8 jet fuel, a kerosene-based fuel commonly used by military aircraft and other vehicles. It contains benzene, a known cancer-causing agent, and the neurotoxin "n-hexane."
In the scenario, emergency agencies were told to respond to a 1,260,000-gallon spill of JP-8 fuel, which is above the capacity of the largest tank in the Sparks tank farm, Stevenson said.
"Local agencies were split into teams to clean it up, protect the environment and protect the public from a catastrophe," Stevenson said. "We are looking at how to handle evacuations, street closures and how to clean it up."
The only known causes of such a catastrophic spill could be a very large earthquake or a total engineering design failure causing the metal welds on the seams of the tanks to split during unloading or uploading of fuel onto tanker trucks, he said.
"It would have to be a pretty severe earthquake," Stevenson said. "Otherwise, there is no other failure where you would lose all of the product out of the tank. It's one of those things that probably will never happen, but could — so we have to plan for it."
Fuel storage tanks are required to meet federal requirements for earthquake protection, and federal law requires tank inspections every 20 years, he said.
"We inspect the tanks every 10 years or more often if we suspect a problem," Stevenson said.