The overturned Space Age Fuel truck on Highway 22 on Feb. 16, 2020. (Photo by Oregon State Police)

The company whose fuel truck overturned on Highway 22 two years ago, spilling gasoline and diesel into the North Santiam River, has been penalized by state and federal regulators, the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday. 

Space Age Fuel Inc. of Clackamas, agreed to pay the EPA $135,000 for violating the federal Clean Water Act by contaminating waters that flow into the Columbia River.

Space Age will also pay a fine of $70,000 to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and develop an “inclement weather safety program,” according to the final agreement between the company and the state and federal environmental agencies. By entering into the agreement, the company agrees to pay the fines, but does not admit guilt, according to EPA spokesperson Alice Corcoran.

The accident happened on Feb. 16, 2020, around 7:40 a.m. when the truck’s driver lost control of the vehicle on a right-hand turn on the two-lane highway, hitting a guardrail and overturning. The conditions were snowy and slushy, according to an Oregon State Police report. 

The driver of the Space Age fuel truck, Daniel Rodriguez, 39, of Clackamas, was treated for head injuries and later cited for speeding in snow. He was fined ​​$265.

The truck was carrying more than 10,000 gallons of fuel, nearly 8,000 of which was released in the accident, which occurred east of Detroit. Most of it collected in a ditch alongside the highway, but some reached the North Santiam River. According to the EPA, Space Age initiated a spill response and cleanup immediately, but failed to notify the EPA’s National Response Center, a violation of federal law. 

Water sampling following the spill showed elevated levels of petroleum in the river for nearly a month, and a sheen of oil was visible for at least three months, according to EPA. 

The river is also home to federally endangered steelhead and threatened salmon species. Any impacts to those fish populations were not described in the final order from EPA. 

The cities of Salem, Detroit and Stayton get drinking water from the North Santiam, but the spill was ultimately contained before impacting those systems

A similar accident involving another fuel truck occured in the same spot three years earlier, in 2017. That accident caused a fire and ultimately killed the truck’s driver. Thousands of gallons of fuel went onto the highway and into the river, costing more than $1 million in cleanup, according to news reports following the accident. 


Oregon Capital Chronicle

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Alex Baumhardt, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.