Kirtland Jet Fuel Spill

The Kirtland Air Force Base fuel spill is a clear threat to the drinking water of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. This article is a brief summary of key things to understand about the fuel spill and what you personally can due to join in the growing movement of local citizens to get this hazard cleaned up before it contaminates our drinking water wells.

The History

KAFD had a jet fuel storage facility on the base that leaked millions of gallons of jet fuel into ground on the north side of the base. The spill was officially recognized in 1999 and the fuel tank was removed. Both KAFB and New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) claim they did not know the spill plume had reached the water table and thus the aquifer until 2007 but there is evidence that this was known five year earlier. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand a spill of this size would ultimately contaminate the ground water.

The most dangerous chemical in the fuel spill plume is ethylene dibromide (EDP). It is a known carcinogen at very small concentrations. According EPA drinking water is unsafe if EDB levels exceed 50 parts per trillion. The plume has moved over the years spreading out in all directions but moving ominously northeast towards the complex of ABCWUA drinking water wells known as the Ridgecrest Wells. These wells are crucial to the drinking water for all consumers of ABCWUA as they are the most productive wells in the system and very low in arsenic.  The plume with the EDB is reported to be 4000 feet from the wells and still moving towards this well cluster.

KAFD and NMED have spent the last 7 years determining the size and the movement of the plume. There has been some very modest activity intended to test a pump and treat method of removing the contaminated water and treating it. The contractor hired by KAFB has been paid upward towards $50,000,000 contract to model the plume movement and to propose remediation methods. Reportedly, they are on schedule to have the proposed “final remedy” proposed and tested by sometime in 2015.

Recent events

Congresswoman Lujan-Greshim has come out strongly advocating the KAFB fuel spill be the central focus of the New Mexico Congressional Delegation. She proposed an independent oversight commission be created to serve as a watchdog over the cleanup activities due to the amount of conflicting and confusing information and the lack of a clear plan resulting in cynicism and distrust by the public. Representative Lujan-Greshim’s office has also indicated there has been no money appropriated to actual clean up. This may explain the slow pace!

The New Mexico Legislature passed House Joint Memorial 13 sponsored by Representative Stapleton an calling for an independent task force of experts to address the KAFB fuel spill cleanup and report its finding by November 2014.

An example of why that distrust exists occurred at the last KAFB Fuel Spill Citizens Advisory Board January 28. The consultant group promised at the previous CAB meeting they would have definitive information on the speed of the plumes movement. But, they did not present that information and when asked to speak to that they claimed they did not have that information available???!!!

The EPA came out with a model of the plumes movement estimating it would take 30 years before it hit the Ridgecrest wells. More recently, the contractor  hired jointly by KAFB and ABCWUA released a study indicating it would take 40 years for the plume to reach our wells. But, both the KAFB contractor and an NMED spokesperson have indicated that it will be likely that the four models that have been developed and are under development are not likely to agree with each other. Some experts challenge these multi-decade estimates as being overly optimistic based on the assumptions made and the fact there are no testing wells in the path of the plume and the Ridgecrest wells. The models of plume movement is supposed to inform the NMED on what measures will need to be taken in what time frame in order to remove the contaminant before it hits the drinking water production wells.

It was announced at the CAB that the contaminated surface dirt at the site of the spill is going to be excavated and removed. It is not clear why this was not done when the tank was removed in 1999.

Community Action—what you can do?

More and more people are attending the CAB meetings and asking the hard questions the officials seem unprepared to answer. The NHNA outreach event was attended by over 100 people. Community activism is required to get KAFB and NMED to live up to their promise to remove the contamination before it reaches the wells. When will that be—there is no clear answer. So the demand from the community must be—Clean up  the contamination NOW!

What can you do:

1) Get informed:

The following web sites have information about the fuel spill:

2) Show up at meetings and ask for answers to when the fuel spill will be cleaned up; the key meetings are:

  • CAB: 4/ 22, 7/22 and 10/21 at Cesar Chavez Community Center stating at 5:30 PM
  • ABCWUA: 3/19, 4/23, 5/21, 6/18, 8/20, 9/17, 10/22, 11/19, 12/17 at Vincent E. Griego Chambers, One Civic Plaza starting at 5:00 PM
  • Albuquerque City Council: 3/17, 4/7, 4/21, 5/5, 5/19, 5/28, 6/2, 6/16, 8/4, 8/18, 9/3, 9/15, 10/6, 10/20, 11/3, 11/17, 12/1, 12/15 at Vincent Griego Chambers, One Civic Plaza starting at 5:00 PM
  • Bernalillo County Commission; 3/11, 3/25, 4/8, 4/22, 5/6, 5/20, 6/10, 6/24, 8/12, 8/26, 9/9, 9/23, 10/14, 10/28, 11/18, 12/9 at Vincent E. Griego Chambers, One Civic Plaza at 5:00 PM

3) Write your members of Congress and ask them to get involved in defense of clean water for Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. Be sure to thank Rep. Lujan-Greshim for her bold stand. Ask for there to be a Senate and House hearing on this issue to pin the DOD down to fully funding the cleanup and a strict deadline. Your members can be contacted at:

4) Write your New Mexico Legislators and ask them to get involved in defending our clean water. Ask for hearing to be held in the House and Senate and demand that NMED hold KAFD strictly accountable to all their commitments and deadlines for the cleanup of the oil spill. Your members can be contacted at:

There will be other ways to get informed and stay involved. If you are interested in helping out on this issue please contact the NHNA board or Kurt Krumperman at

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