Pontoon boat drill rig to measure tar ball contamination

December 2010 News
If you happen to see a gray pontoon boat with what looks like a large drill bit slowly moving up and down the popular recreation area of the Congaree River downtown between the Gervais and Blossom street bridges, its operators aren't drilling for oil - they're looking for coal tar.  

This summer, environmental regulators discovered black, gooey tar balls in the river, a substance that was hard to remove from the skin of those who came in contact with it. The state Department of Health and Environmental Control quickly determined the gunk was a product of two gasification plants that burned coal to make the gas that powered city streetlights 100 years ago and had leaked into the river and been lurking ever since. 

Because one of the plants responsible for the inky goo, built in 1906, was a corporate predecessor to South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. - it closed in the 1950s and was eventually dismantled - the power company said in July that it would clean up the mess. 
Enter the pontoon boat drill rig. 

According to SCE&G spokesman Robert Yanity, the floating apparatus, called a geo-probe drill rig, finished up drilling for core samples in the river bottom months ago and sent its analysis to DHEC.

The environmental regulatory agency wants more information, however. 

"Based on the results, we and [SCE&G] agree that additional delineation of the tar is warranted," says DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick. He adds that the company is making arrangements for the next phase of if it.

"We're going to send another drill rig out there in the next two to three weeks," Yanity tells Free Times. "So it's likely you will see another rig out there probably [in the] mid-December time frame."

The power company, which uses a contractor to operate the boat, is working closely with DHEC officials to find out how much of that part of the river is contaminated by using a drill bit and running a grid pattern up and down the river.

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