Oil Spill Raises Concerns In Barnsdall

Tuesday, July 14th 2009, 10:30 pm
By: News On 6

By Chris Wright, The News On 6

BARNSDALL, OK -- A small town police chief is crying foul about an oil spill he says threatened the water supply, and was covered up by city officials.  But, the city's mayor says it is simply a case of small-town politics gone awry.

The spill happened in the Osage County town of Barnsdall in April.

"It was kind of like a hush hush ordeal.  Nobody knew about it," said Barnsdall Police Chief Tony Gates.

Barnsdall Police Chief Tony Gates snapped pictures after being asked to inspect an apparent oil spill on Lake Waxhoma on April 18th.  The lake provides drinking water for the city and surrounding areas.  Gates found what he says was a large amount of oil, and even a dead beaver.  But, after showing Barnsdall Mayor J.D. Cole the pictures, he says he was told to get rid of them.

He didn't.

"Was actually interrogated over these pictures. How did they get them? Did they come from you? They better not have come from you. If they come from you, you're fired," said Barnsdall Police Chief Tony Gates.

It's a conversation Gates says he recorded:

"You want me to get them off the computer? Yeah. I do. Is this all of them? Delete those. Delete them?"

"I don't know who called you, but whoever called you is a trouble maker in this town," said Barnsdall Mayor J.D. Cole.

Cole is the man whose voice Gates says is heard on the recording.  Cole claims the spill was minor, and the proper authorities were alerted.  Cole says the Department of Environmental Quality inspected the lake and found no threat to the drinking water.

"This thing is all fabricated. We had a small, maybe a gallon, leak out of a lead line. There's a small section here in town, Chris, that blew it plum out of proportion," said Barnsdall Mayor J.D. Cole.

Regardless of what happened, Gates is worried that blowing the whistle will cost him his job.  But, making the pictures public is something he says he simply had to do.

"I'd do it in a heartbeat again.  I just want to make this town safe, and provide safe protection for the people of this town," said Barnsdall Police Chief Tony Gates.

The News On 6 spoke with a representative from Performance Petroleum, the company responsible for the leak into the lake.  He says there was a sheen of oil on the water, but only a few gallons spilled into the lake.

He also says the beaver in that picture was not killed by oil, but was shot before the spill.