LEWISTON, Idaho - An estimated 7,500 gallons of diesel fuel from a crashed tanker spilled into a ditch on the side of U.S. Highway 12, but has not yet seeped into the nearby Lochsa River, authorities said Thursday.
On Wednesday, the driver of the tanker failed to steer through a curve and crashed into a rocky hillside, rupturing the fuel tank, according to Idaho State Police Investigators.
The fuel has pooled in caverns underneath the two-lane highway, and authorities said cleanup crews have placed booms in the river to protect fish and the waterway.
"There is definitely quite a bit of diesel in the ground that is seeping down, but they have said nothing is in the water yet," Fish and Game spokesman Mike Demick told the Lewiston Tribune.
The Idaho State Police cited the driver, Brent A. Weber of Missoula, for inattentive driving. He was driving a truck owned by Keller Transport Inc. of Billings.
The highway cuts across northern Idaho from Lewiston to Lolo Pass and into Montana. It's a curvy, winding roadway that for much of the way traces the Lochsa River, a federally-designated Wild and Scenic river and blue ribbon cutthroat trout fishery that is also pristine habitat for protected bull trout, wild steelhead and chinook salmon.
The tanker crash and fuel spill is not the first to occur along the highway. But it comes at a time of heightened concern about trucking and protecting the environment along the river corridor.
On Friday, the Idaho Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in an appeal by ConocoPhillps of a judge's decision to block four shipments of massive oil refinery equipment along the highway. The oil company wants to haul the equipment from the port in Lewiston to its refinery in Billings.
Later this year, ExxonMobil Canada wants to begin hauling the first of more than 200 oversized loads of refinery machinery along the highway and into Montana to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada. Those loads will take a year and force temporary closures of U.S. 12 five nights a week.
But residents and environmentalists see the shipments as a threat to public safety and convenience, as well as a potential risk to the river and surrounding environment.