COLORADO

After a six-month search, more than 7,000 gallons of diesel fuel are still missing from a Summit County ski resort.

In January, when the fuel was delivered to Copper Mountain, the driver reportedly pumped it into a water-quality monitoring well instead of an underground storage tank. Although officials were able to recover 150 gallons right away, numerous test wells and soil samples have failed to locate the rest.

"We've been working with the consultants, faxing maps back and forth, exchanging all sorts of information," says Larry Delin of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment Oil Inspection Section, "and there are no indications (of the fuel), if it ever existed in the first place."

Copper Mountain spokesman Ben Friedland says mistaking the well for a fuel storage tank is not easy. Three signs warn contractors not to dump in the area, he says, and the connection mechanisms are different.

An Environmental Protection Agency response team, however, assumes that the fuel has collected near the area's groundwater, possibly pooled into a small location the monitoring wells have not yet reached. The team is asking for a new series of tests.

Ongoing tests of the resort's drinking water show no diesel fuel contamination, nor have nearby rivers been affected. But because of the topography of the area, says EPA team leader Martha Wolf, "it will move. Everything goes downhill, so you expect it to eventually get in the streams."

If the fuel turns up in local water sources, it could not only affect the drinking water supply but also harm plant and animal life in the area.

Copyright © 2001 HCN and Catherine Lutz