If it hadn’t have been for the legal bull moose walking through his property, Chuck Campbell may not have discovered the deepening piles of ashy cement powder coating the trees and running off into a gravel pit on his Nikiski property.
“This just showed up here after (Sept. 20) because … he came through here and walked through this and he was this deep,” Campbell said, lifting his hand about 3 feet above the frozen ground. “I went through here and I got him and hunted him and I’m like, ‘god almighty.’ This really got out of hand.”
Campbell’s property borders a parcel owned by BJ Services Company at 54070 Lola Court in Nikiski; the company was bought by Baker Hughes in 2010.
For some time, workers at the company have driven back to a dirt hill on the east end of the property and dumped a remnants of a cement mixture into the woods. The growing pile of the white, dusty residue mixed with areas of a green-tinged, pungent chemical prompted a visit from an Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation investigator on Thursday. He said the company has assured him that it will no longer be disposing of its excess cement by dumping it onto the ground.
“It certainly is bad practice,” said DEC Environmental Program Manager Steven Russell. “BJ Hughes management agrees with that. They’ve instructed their crews to not do this type of thing again and they’re in the process of developing a plan to clean that stuff up.”
Workers from the company would go do a cementing job and when they returned to the yard, dump the remainder out of their trucks and into the woods.
“Sometimes they may have had a yard or so, sometimes they may have just a few bucketfuls,” Russell said. “It’s really hard for me to tell how long they’ve been at this. In speaking to their management, the practice stopped.”
Russell said certain aggregates of the mixture could cause problems, but as a whole the cement dump wasn’t toxic.
“It’s mostly cement components there, so I don’t think it poses a significant environmental risk,” he said. “The most important thing is to not continue the practice, that’s just not acceptable to anybody.”
But Campbell is not certain that the mixture is entirely safe.
As he walked along the south end of his three-acre parcel Thursday, his feet sinking into the frozen mud and leaves, he talked about discovering the mushy mess leaking into a pit on his property.
“This started probably back in early August,” Campbell said. “When I brought this property a year ago, there was none of this here. … It’s all over the woods out here. I can walk back 100 yards and it’s all over the bushes and trees.”
A dusty film has hardened over the bases of many of the trees running between the two properties, but that Campbell said he is more concerned about the foul-smelling, oily liquid that he cannot identify.
The company hasn’t been forthcoming about it either, he said.
When Campbell went to the Baker Hughes building to find out more about the mixture, and get a copy of a data sheet on the properties of the company’s cement mixture, he said they told him it was Portland cement but wouldn’t give him any documents.
“They almost handed me one and then they took it back. He said ‘I have to get approval for this. We will be in touch,’” Campbell said.
At Baker Hughes, the Alaska Health, Safety, Environment Area Manager Jason Goodwin, said “We are working on it right now,” before referring questions to a company media contact, Melanie Kania.
Kania emailed a prepared statement that reads, “We are responding to the discharge of dry and hardened cement at our facility in Kenai, Alaska. The cement is contained and we are working with an environmental consulting company and the local regulatory agency to ensure it is cleaned up and disposed of in a timely manner. We are looking into the cause of the incident so that we may take steps to prevent similar incidents in the future.”
Kania clarified during a later phone interview that “contained” meant that the mixture was not spreading. She said she didn’t have any information as to what was inside of the cement mixture and was not sure she could get answers to any further questions as it was after-hours for the Houston, Texas-based company.
“It’s late here, so I don’t know that I could connect you to anybody there without the proper approvals,” she said.
No one from the company responded to questions about what was in the cement, how long it was being discharged or if there were any hazardous materials in the cement as of press time Thursday.
For Campbell, the lack of information is worrying.
He snapped a branch off a tree and used it to dig through a thin layer of ice coating the top of a large puddle that straddles the boundary between the two properties. He smelled the liquid oozing off of the stick and wrinkled his nose.
“They just said it’s nothing more than Portland cement. But that is not Portland cement. That is chemicals of some sort … I don’t know what it is. It is pitiful stuff. It stinks. I stuck my finger in it one day — I wasn’t thinking to much about it — and I smelled it and it just smells horrible. Then later on down the trail there, I wiped my eye and then it started burning.”
Russell said the company was supposed to provide him with a cleanup plan soon.
“During the cleanup operations, that should be taken up here in the next week at the latest, they’ll be looking at that to see if they need to do any analytical testing,” Russell said. “If we have anything strange going on there, we can certainly have them do some analytical testing.”
Currently, the company plans to put tarps over some of the dried cement and silica spots that are not hardened on the surface, and erect a fence, he said.
While dumping cement is not technically illegal, Russell said, it was poor practice.
“If this was a hazardous material, or if this was a petroleum-based material, certainly we’d be more involved,” Russell said. “It still falls back to BJ Services to clean this up, whether it went onto Mr. Campbell’s property or stayed on BJ Services property, they need to clean it up.”