Petroleum leak forces evacuations on U Twin Cities campus

Crews block off an area on a street.
A half dozen buildings at the University of Minnesota have been evacuated after a sewer crew reported petroleum in a tunnel on Aug. 2, 2022.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Updated 5 p.m.

University of Minnesota officials ordered the evacuation of part of the Twin Cities campus Tuesday morning as state and city officials worked to track down another petroleum leak in the area.

Fire crews responded around 11:30 a.m. to a hazardous material call from contractors working in the sewer tunnels located around 5th and Oak streets who reported their gas monitors had sounded an alarm and that they could see and smell petroleum in the tunnel, the Minneapolis Fire Department said.

People were told to stay clear of the area for much of the afternoon. By about 4:30 p.m., officials were giving the all-clear for people to return to homes and campus buildings but urged residents to call 911 if they smelled gas.

The source of the leak is still unknown, and it’s not clear if it’s connected to a fire and reports of gas leaks in the area about a month ago that forced the evacuation of several buildings on campus. The origin of those leaks remains under investigation.

Fire officials said the sewer system in the area was being flushed with water and they encouraged nearby residents to open their taps and do the same. The flushing has helped mitigate the potential hazard, Melanie Rucker, assistant Minneapolis fire chief, told reporters.

Rucker said the discovery of the leak by the contractors was likely a lucky break that allowed fire crews to respond before any fires or explosions happened.

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State hazardous materials emergency response teams are at the scene trying to trace the source of the leak and identify the kind of petroleum involved.

“There is a significant amount of petroleum product in the sewer lines right now,” said Jim Smith, the state fire marshal. The sewer system’s complexity makes it extremely difficult to trace, he said, adding that they have reached out to local pipeline operators and they do not appear to be the source.

Campus building evacuations included Huntington Bank Stadium, McNamara Alumni Center, the Aquatics Center, Recreation Center, Mariucci Arena and the Maturi Pavilion.

Via KARE 11: Watch Minneapolis and state fire officials brief reporters on Tuesday’s petroleum leak: