Three Oaks Senior High School oil spill reached 11,000 litres, says official

An oil tank leak at Three Oaks Senior High School in Summerside on the weekend is now being called a significant spill by the provincial environment department.

26-year-old oil tank was rusted out at the bottom, according to environment official

Environmental officials say it could be weeks before the site is cleaned up. (Laura Meader/CBC News)

An oil tank leak at Three Oaks Senior High School in Summerside on the weekend is now being called a significant spill by the provincial department of environment.

Barry Jackson, the environmental regulatory coordinator with the province, estimates 11,000 litres spilled from the 26-year-old tank, which had rusted out at the bottom. The tank had a 22,000-litre capacity. 

He says "human error and improper maintenance" led to the incident. The leak should have been stopped by a concrete containment area around the tank, but a drainage pipe in poor condition let the oil seep into the ground. 

Jackson says the containment area will only work when it's plugged and in this case the "drain was damaged and the plug wasn't working properly."

The work site near the oil tank outside Three Oaks Senior High School on Wednesday. (Laura Meader/CBC)

An 'unfortunate incident'

Over the holiday weekend, someone on school grounds noticed the leak and called for help. They then stuffed the leaking drain with a rag. Summerside's fire department responded. 

Fire Chief Jim Peters originally estimated the spill at a couple of hundred litres. 

School officials arrived at the school Saturday evening to assess the spill. 

"It's an unfortunate incident," said English Language School Board director John Cummings. "We are working with the Department of Environment and environmental consultants to clean up the area." 

Cleanup to take weeks

A pit near the tank has been dug to assess the damage. There's a high concentration of oil mixed in with the water in the pit.

The school board maintains that its tanks are checked regularly, but those checks should include the drains, Jackson said.

The drain pipe from the containment area around the rusted tank also leaked because the drain was damaged and not properly plugged, says environmental co-ordinator. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Environmental officials say the water supply — maintained by the municipal water service — is not at risk. However, crews will be bringing in specialized pumping and treatment systems soon.

"The site is fairly wet. There's clay soils and a fairly high water table, so that will present some challenges to recover the fuel oil," Jackson said. 

The work is expected to take a month or more. Ongoing assessments will continue to be made to soil and ground water conditions. 

With files from Laura Meader