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Kirtland Air Force Base jet fuel leak, USA

A decades-old jet fuel spill contaminated soil and groundwater beneath Kirtland Air Force Base, moving towards wells supplying drinking water to Albuquerque. The spill, estimated at 24 million gallons, was the largest underground toxic spill in US history


In 1999 a leak was discovered in the jet fuel loading facility at Kirtland Air Force Base (KAFB). The size of the spill has been estimated at 24 million gallons (91 million litres), the largest toxic spill in the history of the US. Jet fuel and aviation gas had been leaking into the soil and groundwater for decades. The KAFB jet fuel spill is approximately twice the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, when a tanker spilled more than 12 million gallons (45 million litres) of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound killing an estimated 250,000 seabirds along with seals, otters, and killer whales. In 2013 Citizens Action New Mexico (CANM) published an investigation of the clean-up programme, which was highly critical of the authorities, stating that, over 13 years after discovery of the leak, the Environmental protection Agency (EPA) and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) had not compelled the Air Force to remediate the spill effectively or to contain a toxic plume migrating towards wells that are an important source of drinking water for Albuquerque. CANM joined with Amigos Bravos to appeal to the EPA to intervene in the stalled clean-up and conduct a new assessment of the spill. CANM criticized a map ostensibly showing the known limits of contaminated groundwater, arguing that KAFB had not completed studies of the aquifer, so hydrologists were not able to model the movement of the underground contamination. CANM and other critics of the  remediation efforts were especially concerned that it was limited to soil vapor extraction, a process that cleans jet-fuel saturated soil but does nothing to remove contaminants from groundwater.[1]

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Kirtland Air Force Base jet fuel leak, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:New Mexico
Location of conflict:Albuquerque
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Ports and airport projects
Military installations
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Specific commodities:Water
jet fuel
Crude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Kirtland Air Force Base (KAFB). A new jet fuel loading facility was built in the 1950s to replace the old one, which was leaking.[1] The new fuel facility received its first trainload of jet fuel and aviation gas in 1953.[2]

Type of populationUrban
Start of the conflict:1999
Relevant government actors:New Mexico Environment Department (NMED)
Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (WUA)
Ground Water Quality Bureau (GWQB)
City Water Advisory Board
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Citizens Action New Mexico (CANM) -
Amigos Bravos -
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Public campaigns
investigation of the clean-up programme
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Soil contamination, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Potential: Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Other Health impacts, Other environmental related diseases
Other Health impactsRisk of illnesses caused by contamination of water supplies
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:With regard to the jet fuel spill Citizens Action New Mexico (CANM) concluded that Kirtland authorities 'utterly failed to perform their regulatory duties for inspection, keeping inventory, clean up, spill prevention and response, annual reports, sampling, testing, ongoing communication with other personnel, workplace safety evaluations, emergency planning, and safety exercises'.[3]
Sources & Materials

[1] The Kirtland Air Force Base Jet Fuel Spill: An Update, La Jicarita, 28 November 2013
[click to view]

[2] La Jicarita: The Environmental Disaster You’ve Never Heard Of, Albuquerque’s Kirtland Air Force Base jet fuel spill, Alibi, 4 December 2013
[click to view]

[3] Kirtland Jet Fuel Spill: Historical Summary, Citizens Action New Mexico, July 2013
[click to view]

[4] VIDEO REPORT: New Study Downplays Impacts of KAFB Jet Fuel Spill, La Jicarita Talks to the Critics, La Jicarita, 13 February 2014
[click to view]

[5] Experts Dispute EPA on Kirtland Spill Water Contamination, Eric P Shultz, 21 January 2014
[click to view]

[6] Kirtland Jet Fuel Spill Update, Alibi, 4 April 2018
[click to view]

[7] State wants KAFB to do more to clean up jet fuel, Albuquerque Journal, 12 March 2019
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Experts Dispute EPA on Kirtland Spill Water Contamination, Eric P Shultz, 21 Jan 2014
[click to view]

Does decades-long fuel leak threaten Albuquerque's water?, PBS Newshour, 13 May 2014
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Rose Bridger, Stay Grounded, email: [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:4033
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