Sulphur Creek oil spill

(Information on this site is considered to be accurate at the time of posting, but is subject to change as new information becomes available.)

An above ground storage tank near Sunnyside failed on Sunday, March 1, sending as much as 1,500 gallons of used motor oil into Sulphur Creek and the Yakima River.

Summary information

Date of incident:  March 1, 2015

Yakima, WA

Type of incident: Used motor oil
Cause of incident: Under investigation
Responsible party: Deaton Land, LLC

Status updates

September 13, 2017

We issued a $28,000 penalty to the landowner for this spill. Besides the penalty, and under state law, the owner also faces a Resource Damage Assessment for harm caused to public resources. In Washington, an oil spiller is responsible for adequately compensating the public for injuries to their resources. This may take the form of a restoration and enhancement project or study, or the spiller may be assessed damages, which are paid into a restoration fund managed by the state for such projects.

March 25, 2015

Emergency response to the Sulphur Creek oil spill near Sunnyside has wound down. Work is transitioning to Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program, which is evaluating legacy contamination unrelated to the current spill of used oil from an aboveground storage tank. The majority of the spill-related contamination has been captured and cleaned up. Irrigation ditches and canals have been cleaned of oil and debris and are in service for area farmers.
The remaining contamination on the former feedlot is being evaluated and future cleanup and responsibility considered.

In a final report on oiled wildlife, FOCUS Wildlife Response and Consulting says that 22 oiled wild mallards were captured, 6 died in care and 16 were cleaned and released back to the wild. Early on, some 16 oiled mallards were observed already dead in the wild. In addition, 57 oiled greylag domestic geese were captured, one euthanized, and 56 were cleaned and made available for adoption. All of the geese have been adopted.

March 16, 2015

FOCUS Wildlife Response and Consulting reports that seven of the 17 mallards captured and cleaned of oil were released back to the wild today. The remaining 10 mallards are recuperating and should be released sometime later this week. Some 19 domestic geese also oiled by the spill have been cleaned as of today and the 38 remaining should be cleaned by the end of this week. FOCUS along with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are working to find homes for the domestic breed geese as they cannot be released to the wild. The geese had been living informally off the land when they were oiled. Calls to the wildlife hotline has resulted in enough homes for all 57 geese that were captured and will be rehabilitated.

March 13, 2015

The active search for oiled wildlife was suspended today. FOCUS Wildlife continues to treat the birds collected in a rehabilitation center until they are fit for release.

To date, 17 mallards have survived along with 50+ previously domesticated geese. Nineteen birds were collected deceased or did not survive rehabilitation.

A flock of grey geese, previously domesticated, was gathered and is in the stabilization stage of rehab. The first of the flock begin the washing process today.

Once the geese are rehabilitated they will need new homes, as they cannot be re-released into the wilderness.

Anyone interested in adopting a small flock (5-10 at a time preferred) should call 1-800-22BIRDS. Suitable adopters will need to meet specific requirements and sign an agreement on how they will care for the birds.

NRCES crews installed a fence around the site of the leak today, and along with Ecology, will continue to monitor the area throughout the weekend.

March 12, 2015

The unified command has suspended its onsite unit and further cleanup efforts will continue using a virtual, unified-command approach.

The National Response Corporation Environmental Services, (NRCES) remains on site as contracted and will place a new plug in the tank; fence off the site; and other tasks before demobilizing. NRCES will continue to check several areas of the site daily to monitor conditions.

FOCUS Wildlife, the contractor working with the oiled birds, set up a rehabilitation center in Pasco. Current relief efforts are focused on 22 live mallards and approximately 50 domesticated geese. Nineteen deceased birds total have been collected.

March 10, 2015

Response efforts continue with containment and clean up equipment deployed at multiple locations. Crews continue to work to remove oil from the piping system and in the ditches.

Good progress has been made and some containment equipment may be removed today or in the near future.

Primary efforts continue to be focused near the spill site and the complex system of ditches and pipes flowing to the Sulphur Creek Wasteway.

Wildlife assessment: Since March 10, the bird count increased to approximately 20 live mallard ducks in custody, 18 deceased mallards collected, and one domestic, non-native gray goose in custody. Several other domestic, non-native gray geese are expected to be collected today.

The Department of Fish & Wildlife continues to monitor the established hotline to report impacts to wildlife @ 1-800-22BIRDS (1-800-222-4737) or email

March 9, 2015

Nine oiled mallard ducks were captured and six deceased ducks were also collected last week. Oiled birds are not cleaned immediately upon rescue; a rest period must occur before the cleaning process starts.

A mobile wildlife rehabilitation system is on site and cleaning operations are expected to begin this week. Efforts are still underway to confirm the spill pathway. Investigation continues into the volume and cause of the spill.

Over the weekend, response efforts through the Unified Command focused on:

  • Cleaning up oil in the ditch near the spill site.
  • Continuing to collect and clean up oil at several locations including in at the mouth of the Sulphur Creek Wasteway.
  • Monitoring for oil in the Yakima River and at the Fish hatchery on the Yakima River in Prosser.
  • Surveying for oil birds and wildlife. Establishing the mobile rehabilitation facilities and preparing to clean birds early next week.
  • Assessing oiled shoreline and determining the least impactful method to clean them.
  • Determining current costs and burn rate for the response.
  • Updating local officials, stakeholders and interested parties of the response efforts.

We continue to assess impacts to sensitive areas and determine where we can collect and clean up oil.

March 4, 2015

Initial estimates are that 1,500 – 2,200 gallons of oil flowed into a ditch leading to the Sulphur Creek Wasteway. The oil entered the Yakima River and traveled downstream towards the City of Prosser. To date little oil has been has been observed downstream of Prosser.

A Unified Command made up of Ecology, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Yakama Nation and the Responsible Party are continuing to direct response efforts.

The National Response Corporation (NRC), Yakama Nation, and Ecology Responders continue clean-up efforts. A significant amount of absorbent pads, protective boom and collection equipment has been deployed by Ecology and NRC responders at multiple locations in the area to contain and clean up oil.

As of now the majority of the response is being paid for through Ecology’s Oil Spill Response Account.

As reported yesterday, Ecology conducted one over-flight on Monday, March 2, and several on the ground assessments to determine the impacts to shorelines, sensitive areas and impacts to wildlife. The surveys confirmed:

  • The source is contained.
  • The ditch from the source to the Sulphur Creek Wasteway is heavily oiled.
  • The Sulphur Creek Wasteway is heavily oiled.
  • There are pockets of oil and sheening along the shores of the Yakima River downstream to Prosser.
  • Minimal sheening downstream of the Prosser Diversion Dam.

Impacts to birds are verified. Ecology directed NRC to subcontract with Focus Wildlife to begin addressing wildlife impacts.

Focus Wildlife is on-site today conducting surveys to locate impacted wildlife.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife has established a hotline to report impacts to wildlife @ 1-800-22BIRDS (1-800-222-4737) or email

March 3, 2015

Responders have observed at least 50 birds that are moderately oiled as a result of the spill.

Unified Command will work with a wildlife rehabilitation organization to conduct surveys and a full evaluation of the impacts to waterfowl and other wildlife. This will include any rehabilitation deemed necessary.

People are requested to stay away from oiled wildlife to minimize stress to the animals. Citizens should not attempt to capture any oiled wildlife; such efforts could endanger the safety both of the public and the animals.

Report oiled animals by leaving a detailed message at 1-800-22BIRDS (1-800-222-4737) or email

March 2, 2015

An above ground storage tank near Sunnyside failed on Sunday, March 1, sending as much as 1,500 gallons of used motor oil into Sulphur Creek and the Yakima River. The spill created a sheen seen as far south as Prosser.
Department of Ecology spill responders Sunday afternoon deployed absorbent pads and protective boom at multiple locations, including about 900 feet upstream of the mouth of Sulphur Creek and at a fish hatchery on the Yakima River in Prosser.
The environmental cleanup company NRC has been hired and is using vacuum trucks to remove the remaining oil. Local, state and tribal officials are jointly responding to the incident.
The cause of the failure of the tank, which occurred at a former feed lot property, is still under investigation. 
Sulphur Creek is used as an irrigation return drain by the Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District.

Oil boom and absorbent pads are staged at various points along Sulphur Creek several miles from the site to the mouth of the Creek at the Yakima River.

NRC has deployed two more boom lines. One across mouth. And 200 feet collection boom by the Mabton Bridge on the Yakima River. Two skimmers collecting oil in Sulphur Creek.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has activated its oiled wildlife hotline where citizens may report birds or animals affected by the spill. The Yakima River provides habitat for hundreds of fish and wildlife. Sulphur Creek drains into to the Yakima River near the Sunnyside Wildlife Area, where waterfowl are wintering. The area also is home to river otters, muskrats, beaver and other water-oriented mammals

Oiled Wildlife Reporting Hotline:
The public may notify the Wildlife Branch of oiled wildlife observations by leaving a detailed message at 1-800-22BIRDS (1-800-222-4737) or email
Please describe how many animals were observed, the location of the animals observed, how much oil was observed on the animal, and whether or not the animal appeared mobile or incapacitated. Reports received from the public will be routed to personnel in charge of searching for and recovering oiled wildlife. 
Members of the public are requested to stay away from oiled wildlife to minimize stress to the animals. They should not attempt to capture any oiled wildlife; as such efforts could endanger the safety both of the public and the animals. 
Volunteer Information:
We are not requesting volunteer assistance at this time. In the event that volunteers are needed, a separate Public Service Announcement will be issued instructing the public on available opportunities.

However, if you’re interested in registering to be an oil spill or wildlife volunteer in the future, please visit and register at

An over-flight taken by Ecology the afternoon of Monday, March 2, showed the vast majority of the oil released remains in a 7-mile stretch of Sulphur Creek, which is boomed at the confluence with the Yakima River.

A light sheen of oil can be seen for approximately 12 River Miles along the Yakima River between Sulphur Creek and Prosser, with little observed below the Prosser Dam.

Ecology has established a Unified Command with representatives from the Yakama Nation, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and Deaton Land LLC, owners of the property where the release occurred.

On Tuesday, oil collection and shoreline assessments will continue along Sulphur Creek and on the Yakima River.

Media contact

Ty Keltner, Media contact,, 360-407-6990