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Spill II even bigger than Chevron thought

Published December 4, 2010 1:10 pm

Environment • But the crude, thickened by the frigid air, is making for a quicker cleanup.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Turns out, the latest oil spill on Salt Lake City's east bench was at least two to three times larger than previously estimated, Chevron reported Friday.

But, thanks to two days of scraping, scooping and suctioning, crews have recovered all but a fraction of the crude that leaked Wednesday night from an apparently faulty pipeline valve near Red Butte Garden's amphitheater in the Wasatch foothills.

The oil giant said Friday it hoped to recover this weekend the remaining 5 percent of leaked oil — thickened by the frigid air for easier cleanup. And Salt Lake City Fire Capt. Michael Harp said crews have removed about half the contaminated soil.

Chevron cannot yet explain why Wednesday's leak occurred. But it did increase the estimate of spilled oil to as much as 500 barrels, up from the 100 to 200 barrels reported Thursday.

"The free oil's up," company spokesman Dan Johnson said. "It's just a matter of getting the residue that's there."

Repairing Chevron's crude-stained reputation in Salt Lake City will require more work — especially in the wake of an even larger June spill from the same pipeline poured more than 800 barrels into nearby Red Butte Creek.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker is scheduled to meet Monday with officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration about his demand that the pipeline remain shut down until a thorough, independent review confirms it is safe.

"Our foremost concern is guaranteeing public safety," Becker said, "both in the near term and going forward."

Investigators from the federal pipeline-safety office huddled Friday with the state Department of Environmental Quality, the Salt Lake Valley Health Department, the Salt Lake City Fire Department, the city's public utilities office, federal workplace safety officials and U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson to plan for the probe into why the pipeline again leaked.

"After this last incident, we all assumed this pipeline was thoroughly checked out," said Matheson, D-Utah. "We have to find out what happened" before anyone can say when the pipeline can return to operation.

If Chevron's latest estimate — that up to 500 barrels leaked — turns out to be right, that would amount to 21,000 gallons, or about two-thirds the 33,600 gallons that spilled from a dime-sized rupture June 11-12, fouling Red Butte Creek, the Yalecrest neighborhood, Liberty Park's pond and a stretch of the Jordan River.

Not only was the latest spill's progress slowed by the cold, but a paved pathway provided a natural barrier while emergency crews erected their own berms to contain the spill and prevent it from reaching Red Butte Creek.

City Public Utilities Director Jeff Niermeyer said the concrete containment box, housing the apparently faulty valve and still filled with toxic fumes, is close to being clean enough and safe enough to allow investigators to begin their work. That would include removing the valve and analyzing it at a metals lab.

"This was a much smaller event [than June's spill]," Niermeyer said, "but that is only by luck, to some degree. The issues of concern are still there."

Niermeyer said the city will insist on a holistic approach to ensuring the entire system's integrity, not just the pipeline itself. He said emergency response, leak detection, operation protocols, backup systems — all of that must be validated before the pipeline resumes operation.

To aid this effort, the city has hired a Seattle-based independent remediation and consulting firm to oversee the work of Chevron and federal investigators. The contractor was on the scene Friday.

In addition, the city has a spill ombudswoman, Robin Carbaugh, and resident advisory committees to tackle the issues raised by the June spill. They are expected to add the latest spill to their agendas.

The city has tallied a total of $372,275 in its costs from the June spill — so far. Cleanup continues from that disaster.

The Utah Division of Water Quality has been collecting daily samples to verify that chemicals from the oil are not getting into the creek. That testing will continue, said division director Walt Baker.

"We are not seeing any sheen ... and that is a good sign," he said, noting that soil sampling also is planned. "We just want to make sure there's not any product leaching into the stream."

fahys@sltrib.com —

Chevron: No contest, no admission

Chevron Pipe Line Co. wrote the federal pipeline-safety office Thursday to say it would not contest last month's violation notice against the company for the June spill. It also said that a check for the $423,600 federal fine was being wired to the agency. But the company also wrote that it "does not admit the accuracy of the allegations or the factual assertions" made by the oversight agency.






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