Diesel Spills: How Long do their Results Last?

Red Diesel Floating on Hacker Creek

This spring’s spill of diesel on Hacker Creek killed many invertebrates and harmed other wildlife as well as forcing residents to find other water sources BUT the harmful effects may continue subtly for years.

Long time resident and amateur naturalist Ben Schill relates how, 20 years ago when indoor marijuana first began to be grown with diesel generators, the sudden drop in noise level from an upstream home alerted him to a change in his community.  Because it was in the midst of harsh winter storms, Schille waited a month or two to walk upstream and discover what caused the blessed noise reduction.  He discovered that the 4 cylinder diesel generator that had previously been pumping out energy for an indoor grow had exploded!  The resulting fire “burned all the trees” ten to twelve feet from his creek.

Even these many years later, Schill looks distressed as he exclaims, “This could have been a terrible fire if it hadn’t happened in rainy season.”  Upset but relieved that there hadn’t been more of a fire,  he says, “I didn’t pursue it .  Didn’t want to fight with the neighbors.”

But to his chagrin, the area around the creek began to change. Trees in the area began dying–especially alders and one beautiful old yew tree. Schill concedes there was a drought during some of this time but he says that there is a drought now and the alders are growing back anyway.  He blames the fuel spill that resulted when the generator caught fire and burned the hose, releasing the toxic fuel.  “[This is a result of the] slow effect of no more than 200 gallons of diesel that went into the creek.”  Also he worries that the chemicals produced when the fuel burnt may have been more toxic than the diesel by itself.

The area has returned to much of its natural beauty but it has taken a long time.


I expect to do many repeat hikes up Hacker Creek to see the results of the spill.  Hopefully, the beautiful watershed will not show the ill effects spoken of by Ben Schill.  I hope that the recent attention brought to the spill (especially by the North Coast Journal allowing me to write a cover story about the event) helps people seach for ways to minimize problems associated with diesel grown marijuana.



  • You know…..I’ve never been a strong anti-pot kind of person, but this sort of news leads me to believe that I’ve been wrong. It’s one thing when folks decide, of their own free-will, that they want to smoke dope (I certainly did when a teen), but the cost appears to be too high (no pun intended).

    And for all those kids and adults who think of pot as something eco-friendly, tree-hugging sorts should embrace because it’s natural (or whatever)…they should see what you are seeing. It puts a very different spin on things in my opinion.

  • That is why I didn’t see your name within the story. I skipped right past the author.

  • Kym, please tell me that is NOT a recent photo! Like in this last week.

  • Kym, I was pleasantly surprised to see your article in the NCJ today. You never “spilled” a word about it beforehand!

  • Good job. Congratulations.

  • Thanks you all.

    Forkboy, I’m not against marijuana. I definitely think it should be legal but, our area especially, needs to confront the environmental problems caused by marijuana grows and diesel grows have great potential to harm.

    Cap, I thought you were just joking…Oh, well, I guess I won’t try and track your wife down to teach her how to keep you in your place;>

    Ernie, yes, sadly, that photo was taken about three weeks ago.

  • Hey Kym,
    I’ve kinda been lurking around this subject. But, it really makes my heart sick to think of one of the last relatively untouched places – especially one I call home – be so brutalized by human recklessness / thoughtlessness / carelessness, and to see/hear evidence of it. Makes me want to just yell, “WHAT (if anything) WERE YOU (diesel doper) THINKING!”

  • I really appreciated your article in the NCJ! It was great. Not to haggle over details, but one comment struck me: when you stated that the indoors are driving down the price of outdoor. Yes they are, but even if all the indoors in the county shut down, the price would still be low. there is competition from all over: central valley, Bay area, Mexico, oregon, canada. I think that we tend to look at our own navels here, blame eachother, blame the youth, when really the whole industry stretches far outside of our borders. Ok, thats all I have to say– thanks again!

  • Kym… Jay Schille and I (Ben Schill) feel we must have distant relatives in common. When I was a young guy, long, long ago, I often buried my used motor oil. I would dig holes around my foundation with the theory that it prevented termites. I was young and dumb. A large generator can contain 5 gallons of oil which must be changed once a week. Do you think it is being recycled? I suspect that a large grow is burying about 200 gallons of used oil a year. Eventually it will work its way into the water table and our creeks. It is going to be a terrible problem but not for awhile. We see the fuel spills but the oil is not yet visible. Think about how many generators are running right now in SoHum, surely two thousand gallons of oil go in the ground every month. A disaster in the making.
    Good work, Kym

  • Heather, where the diesel tank and generator at the Hacker Creek spill were placed (over the creek) made the damage worse than a spill elsewhere would have been. I hope people choose not to grow or use diesel dope but if they do, I hope that we can get out info about how to do it more safely.

    Sally, Thank you for your kind words. I also appreciate you taking the time to point out a spot that need elucidating. Though, “Not to haggle over details” 😀 but actually I was quoting Hardy. “Moms and Pops are struggling to sell beautiful organic non-polluting pot because diesel dopers are inundating the market with crap.” While I don’t have facts to back up that assertion, many locals have expressed similar sentiments.
    However, I agree that there are more factors than just one bringing down the price of pot including competition from other areas, Prop 215 making marijuana easier to grow, and less law enforcement action in general (though that seems to be changing.)

  • Ben, I actually realized I misspelled your name (and a few other errors) after I published it but I lost internet service then I had to go to town. I’ll fix it now. SORRY!

    And your point about the used oil is powerful! We need to remember that not all the environmental damage is obvious or immediate. Thanks for giving me all the info above.

  • A big congratulations on the story, Kym!

  • I completely agree with the congratulations Kym. Great Article! You definitely have a way of painting pictures with words. One comment about waste oil… If it was used in motors, the waste oil will tend to have high concentrations of heavy metals which are not good for the ecology. Waste oil has also been known to contain solvents. Waste oil can contain many chemcals, it depends on how/why the waste oil was used, and for what pupose. To all of your readers: Please don’t ever dump it on the ground – recycle!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *