Exell Helium Plant Remediation and Regulatory Closure Team
Bureau of Land Management, Amarillo, Texas
Glenda Briscoe, BLM
During World War II, the Department constructed the Exell Helium Plant to supply helium for military operations. Ready for closure in 2006, the BLM team prepared the site for transfer to the GSA for disposal. The team applied to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to participate in the agency’s Voluntary Cleanup Program. The National Science and Technology Center provided contracting support and technical oversight. Other key partners included the U.S. Geological Survey, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Red J Environmental Corporation, Bureau of Land Management, and Ecology and Environment, Inc. This site presented an excellent location and ideal circumstances to use geophysical techniques to identify and verify anomalies. Cleanup crews used Global Positioning System coordinates to direct soil borings and confirm interpretations of data. As an example, a soil boring confirmed an area adjacent to the former closed drain seal pond as contaminated with residual organic contamination. In addition, geophysical analysis was used to investigate and clear large areas on the southern portion of the property, which would have been prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to sample with traditional methods. The project saved over $1.8 million by reusing materials in the construction of a road and other projects at another BLM site in Texas.
In accordance with the 1996 Helium Privatization Act, a team was formed to expedite the transfer of the defunct Exell Helium Plant near Masterson, Texas, from BLM to the General Services Administration (GSA) for disposal. The National Science and Technology Center (NSTC) provided contracting support and technical oversight to the Amarillo Field Office for the investigation, remediation and transfer of the plant.
Key partners in this project included the US Geological Survey (USGS), the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Red J Environmental Corporation, Bureau of Land Management (Amarillo Field Office, National Science and Technology Center, and the National Business Center) and Ecology and Environment, Inc. (E&E).
During World War II, the U.S. Bureau of Mines constructed the Exell Helium Plant to supply helium for military operations. The Bureau of Mines was abolished in 1996 and the Bureau of Land Management took over the helium operations portion of that agency. The BLM is currently in the process of cleaning up and restoring the property to a condition so that it can be turned over to the GSA for disposition.
After conducting a comprehensive Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) to prepare the site for closure and disposal, BLM applied to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to participate in the agency’s Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP). Stages in this process included a Phase II ESA, preparation of an Affected Property Assessment Report and a Response Action Plan, implementation of the plan and preparation of a Response Action Completion Report including verification of remedial activities.
Significant savings – over $1.8 million – were made during the process by recycling materials slated for disposal. The materials were used in the construction/improvement of a road on the only other BLM land in Texas. Additional materials from the plant were also used for a variety of purposes on this same land.
Need and Implementation
The Helium Privatization Act required the government to phase out the production of helium by 2013. Several actions had to be implemented to enable transfer of the plant to GSA for disposition. In addition, BLM followed internal guidance for environmental site assessments for disposal of real property. The Exell Plant, 35 miles north of Amarillo, had been in constant operation since the early 1940s. The plant itself covered over 30 acres, had a small associated townsite and about 200 acres of government-owned rangeland south of the plant. This unoccupied acreage was unfortunately used for dumping a variety of waste products over a 50-year period.
This site presented an excellent location and ideal circumstances to use geophysical techniques to identify and verify anomalies detected by geophysical instrumentation. Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates were used to direct soil borings to confirm interpretations of data results. As an example, soil boring confirmed an area adjacent to the former closed drain seal pond as contaminated with residual organic contamination. In addition, geophysical analysis was used to investigate and clear large areas on the southern portion of the property which would have been prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to sample with traditional methods.
BLM took a proactive position and decided that entry into the TCEQ VCP was the most appropriate regulatory program to achieve the goal of preparing the plant for transfer to the GSA. Based on experience with closure and transfer of the Amarillo Helium Plant, BLM learned that the most expedient way to work with the TCEQ was to engage the agency early, keep them informed and give them the opportunity for input at critical stages in the process.
To supplement sampling conducted during the site assessment, a joint investigation with USGS was conducted throughout the plant and waste disposal areas. This information was critical in completing a thorough assessment of potential contaminated areas and guiding further investigations.
A Response Action Plan was developed and implemented with Red J, BLM’s removal contractor. BLM, Red J and E&E coordinated closely to implement the plan.
Scope and Project Impact
BLM contracted with E&E to assess environmental conditions, including expansion of the characterization efforts to satisfy the TCEQ Texas Risk Reduction Standards, and the development of recommendations for cleanup of the site necessary prior to its final disposition. A Supplemented Phase II ESA was conducted and an Affected Property Assessment Report was prepared. The supplemented Phase II ESA included an inventory of all suspected Asbestos Containing Materials (ACM), mercury and lead-based paint, and other hazardous materials.
The report compared analytical sample concentrations of contaminants of concern to Tier II TRRP concentrations and determined that two areas within the property required a response action to remove contaminated soil above the risk-based concentration.
Mercury from former vessel gauges was detected in the Cliffside Building and elevated concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were detected adjacent to the former closed drain seal pond. A Response Action Plan was developed and implemented in conjunction with Red J, BLM’s removal contractor. BLM, Red J and E&E coordinated closely to implement the plan. Concurrently with removal of the two areas which required removal to meet TCEQ criteria, BLM elected to perform earthwork focused on the goal of returning the Southern portion of the Exell property to near pre-operational conditions.
This work entailed removal of “attractive nuisances,” sites with materials that could potentially encourage illegal dumping. Earthen dams constructed to form settling basins were excavated and used as additional cover on the incinerator ash land disposal area. All disturbed areas of the south portion of the property were graded to original topographic contours and were revegetated with indigenous vegetation species.
A more significant aspect of this part of the project involved a large area of concrete debris (over 15,000 cubic yards) that was gathered, crushed and recycled for road base at another BLM property. There was a joint agreement that huge amounts of concrete in the Construction Disposal Area would be removed because of the physical hazard and attractive nuisance that the disposal area represented. Disposal costs were estimated to be between $1-2 million contingent on the amount of concrete recovered at the site.
Estimation of the total amount of concrete was made difficult by the variety of shapes and sizes of the dumped concrete and the unknown amounts of buried and partially buried concrete structures. The concrete consisted of foundations, pilings, vaults, sidewalks and other structures associated with the Exell Helium Plant, living quarters and random public dumping.
A consensus between the interested parties was reached that recycling the concrete would be more beneficial as the BLM could avoid disposal costs while providing a road bed at the Cross Bar Cooperative Management Area (CMA). An improved road bed had previously been identified as a critical improvement for access to the property by BLM and West Texas A&M University. Those two parties have recently entered a cooperative management agreement which involves research and resource management requiring an ease of access that only the new roadbed could afford. Red J had experience crushing concrete for roadbed on a previous project and agreed that this would be an opportunity to take advantage of that technology.
Figures for the calculations of cost savings and recycled materials are cited from the invoices submitted by Red J. Those calculations support a disposal savings of $810,000 on 15,113 cubic yards of concrete recovered at the site. The Cross Bar CMA received 15,226 cubic yard of recycled and prepared material (sand mixed with the crushed concrete) to use on the drastic improvement of approximately eight miles of road. Also, the AmFO was able to salvage power poles from the power supply to three water wells located three miles to the northwest of the Exell Plant that were the plant’s only water source during its operations. Twenty thousand dollars ($20,000) worth of power poles were moved to the Cross Bar CMA to be used as parking barriers and for the construction of erosion control dams. The cost of the recycled material was $1,001,468. Additionally, other recycled materials and equipment at the Exell Plant yielded a line item return of $66,890.
The recycling effort yielded a total of 24,714 tons of recycled materials from the Exell Helium Plant closure project with the total in disposal savings, the amount of recycled materials supplied to the Cross Bar CMA and the credit for other recycled materials worth $1,884,460.
After excavation of 48 cubic yards of mercury contaminated material from the Cliffside Building and over 13,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil in the vicinity of the closed Drain seal pond, E&E and USGS conducted further investigation of an area of deep contamination remaining in the southern portion of the facility. BLM conducted a geophysical investigation to determine the horizontal and vertical extent of the “clay layer” which appears to have retarded migration of organic contamination vertically. Drilling confirmed the presence of this layer which strengthened fate and transport modeling indicating that residual contamination posed negligible threat to groundwater, at a depth greater than 300 feet.
Completion of remediation activities associated with the BLM Self-Implemented Response Action Plan for the Exell facility was documented for TCEQ approval in the Response Action Completion Report (RACR). The RACR is scheduled to be submitted in June of 2007. BLM is confident that a Certification of Completion will be issued in 2007. This is necessary for transfer of the facility in a satisfactory condition to the GSA for future use.
U.S. Department of the Interior
Greening of the Interior