Storm water inspection robot discovers true scope of Roanoke underground gas leak

City of Roanoke
City of Roanoke(WDBJ)
Published: Oct. 10, 2016 at 11:33 PM EDT
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Cleanup in Roanoke's Grandin neighborhood continues after a gas station's underground storage tank leaked more than 900 gallons of fuel. An environmental contractor took soil samples and discussed concerns with people in the area Monday.

It was those neighbors who first smelled the gas. But at the time that's all it was, just a smell.

It was actually a robot that discovered the true scope of the problem.

Crews spent all day Sunday tearing into the ground to fix the underground leak. But it was the city stormwater inspection crew's work in the hours before that helped big time.

"It is certainly a high priority call, it's one we have to respond to pretty quickly," Roanoke Stormwater Utility Manager Dwayne D'Ardenne said.

At the center of it all was a CCTV robot. It looks a lot like that Disney movie, but make no mistake it's all business and failure is not on the table.

"That's not an option so we have to find out where the source is so that we can get that remedied," D'Ardenne said.

There were signs gasoline had gotten into the stormwater system. The robot went deep in it, crawling inch by inch looking for clues.

"We knew we had a problem just because of what we had at the discharge point, it was then a point of OK now we have to find out where it's coming from," CCTV Crew Camera Operator Bryan Carriker said.

Less than 10 minutes later it made the discovery. There was definitely a gas leak and it was slowly dripping in for who knows how long.

"You had to dim the lights and tilt the camera head down to the water to see the sheen on the water, and then when we would come to a joint you could see where the petroleum and the water had started separating you could see the swirls in the camera," Carriker said.

Finding the leak was a sense of relief because water in this pipe goes directly into to Mud Lick Creek. But they don't think much, if any gas made it all the way there. And they're taking precautions.

"There's two pads that are absorbing petroleum and downstream of that there are two booms we call them, socks, that are absorbing petroleum once it gets into the ditch line," D'Ardenne said. "When you have a petroleum leak coming from private property and it's getting into the storm drain piping we've got to prevent that petroleum from getting into the downstream which is Mud Lick Creek in this particular case."

This CCTV crew is critical when there are major incidents like this. But day to day it inspects the system to minimize the chance of flooding when we get those big storms, and they've been busy.

The crew has inspected more feet of pipe in the last four months than it did in the entire 12-month period before it.