UPDATED: Thousands of litres of heating oil spilled Wednesday afternoon into the Alna River that runs through Oslo’s east side. By Thursday midday, oil slicks were sighted on the Oslo Fjord as far west at Bygdøy, and one of the city’s most popular swimming areas was closed, right in the middle of a heatwave. It re-opened during the weekend.
The oil was accidentally spilled from the Oslo Sporveien facility at Ryen that services and stores trains used for the city’s metro system (T-bane). Police told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that the spill occurred when several tanks were being emptied by professional firms hired by Sporveien, ironically enough in connection with a city environmental program to phase out heating systems fueled with oil by 2020.
“We hired in specialists to empty and remove the oil tanks in a safe and secure manner,” Sporveien spokesman Cato Asperud told NRK. He said an internal investigation was already underway to find out how such a spill could have occurred. City officials were also upset, and threatened fines against those responsible.
The oil ended up being unleashed into the Alna River that flows through a scenic valley (recently opened with walking paths for the public) and down to the fjord. Reports of odor called out firefighters Wednesday evening, with Rune Skjold of the Oslo Police calling the spill “large and serious, and occurring in an environmentally vulnerable area. We’re investigating this as a serious incident.”
The exact amount of oil spilled remained a matter of dispute, with police initially reporting as much as 80,000 liters and then lowering it to 50,000. Asperud of Sporveien claimed 20,000 liters had leaked from its facility. He acknowledged, however, that “this is sad and disappointing for everyone in Oslo and everyone involved.” He also had to fend off complaints from environmental organizations including Bellona.
Oslo’s new and highly popular swimming docks called Sjøbadet in the eastern harbour at Sørenga were quickly closed, since they lie near the mouth of the river. Sørenga has been packed with sun-worshippers and others recently after temperatures soared to record highs. By Sunday, the area was opened once again, with swimmers telling local media outlets that the water was fine and refreshing in the heat, when temperatures hit as high as 32C in and around the Oslo area.
Oil slicks were also spotted around the island of Nakholmen, which is home to many small holiday cabins. NRK reporter Tom Ingebrightsen was out paddling Thursday morning around Bygdøy and could see large oil slicks on the water that also had a strong odor.
“I’ve paddled for 20 years and have never seen such a large oil slick before,” Ingebrightsen said. He didn’t think it had reached Oslo’s popular beach area at Huk on Bygdøy, but patrols were out to check whether other swimming areas should be closed. There were no complaints from beachgoers during the weekend.
Emergency crews set up booms to contain the oil, mostly around the mouth of the river at Kongshavn. Lars Magne Hovtun of the Oslo fire and rescue service said the oil itself was rather light and should evaporate rather quickly in the hot sunlight.