No underground tank...

But NJDEP cited them for an oil discharge!

An industrial client had its manufacturing facilities and administrative offices located along the bank of the Passaic River. The company placed a tree lined parking lot directly along the shore, which was their property.

As one local police officer was parked beneath the trees on the river bank, he observed an oil sheen in the water, along the bank. When the officer got out to inspect further, he noted that the oil appeared to be discharging from the bank which was the property of the industrial client. In accordance with the regulations, the officer reported a spill to the NJDEP Hotline, identifying the industrial property owner as the source of the spill or release (without ever notifying the company).

Shortly after the report was filed, an NJDEP investigator arrived on site to review and evaluate the situation. The inspec-tor confirmed the presence of an ongoing discharge into the river and that it originated from the subject property. A few weeks later, the company received notification from the State of New Jersey to cease their spill of heating oil into the river and levying a large fine.

The client company did not have an under-ground heating oil storage tank on their property. The buildings on the property had always been heated by natural gas!

A representative from Saile Engineering Enterprises, Inc., was contacted to assist in this matter. The objective in this case, was not to get involved in a lot of expensive and disruptive drilling/boring explorations.

A preliminary investigation uncovered a report to the NJDEP by the neighboring property to the north with the details of the removal of a 5,000 gallon heating oil tank and the accompanying remedial investigation results. The remedial investigation indicated that there was significant contamination remaining in the soils resulting from the underground storage tank (UST), but the contamination appeared to be increasing as it proceeded north, away from our client. A careful analysis of the laboratory data exposed transpositions in the data, revealing a clear pattern of contamination originating from the tank and traveling south, onto the subject property.

However, the Case Manager continued to maintain that contamination on a neighboring property did not absolve the client site from the possible presence of a leaking heating oil UST on their site. Even though the client denied that such a UST ever existed on their property, the Case Manager reasoned that there might be a tank buried on the property of which the current owners were unaware.

Besides, both properties were on the bank of the Passaic River and the flow patterns of ground water approaching a river are always normal (perpendicular) to the river itself. In order for this oil slick to have originated on the neighboring property, it would have had to travel at an acute southerly angle to cross the client property before discharging into the river.

The Case manager’s response caused us to question how could our theory possibly work, in light of what experience has proven to all of us: ground water flow is always normal to the flow of a stream. With that challenge, we studied the maps of the area very closely and made a very interesting discovery. About six river miles to the north of the property there is a dam across the Passaic River. About one river mile south, there is another, smaller, dam across the river. Stream flow between the two dams is southerly ONLY.

This realization, along with all of the other data which we had provided, convinced the Case Manager that the source of the oil seeping from the banks of our client’s property did, in fact, originate from the property to the north. Within one month, the case was rescinded.

From start to finish, our involvement in this case lasted approximately nine months. But we were able to convince the NJDEP that an error had been made, without burdening our client with the added costs and property damage resulting in numerous borings, analyses, and computer modeling which others might have attempted.