So will Chevron spill mean higher gas prices? Not yet

Spill fallout » Chevron tapping reserves and working to get pipeline going again.
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Utah motorists probably won't see any bump at the pump as a result of the crude oil leak from Chevron's pipeline.

Although the pipeline that supplies Chevron's refinery in Salt Lake City with about 15,000 barrels of crude per day remains shut down, the oil company still has plenty on hand to process into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

"We've started looking for other sources of crude [in case the pipeline closure drags on]," Dan Johnson, a Chevron spokesman, said Monday. "But, for the short term, we have plenty of oil in storage at our refinery."

And while it may be weeks or even months before the spill that polluted Red Butte Creek, Liberty Park and parts of the Jordan River is cleaned up, the pipeline that caused the problem could be up and running in a few days.

Chevron workers started repairing the 10-inch steel pipeline Monday by removing the damaged section in preparation for welding a new segment into place -- repairs that are expected to take a couple of days at most.

The work is being monitored by a representative of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which must sign off on the pipeline before it can be filled back up with crude.

"There is no set time for when a pipeline will go back into service," said Patricia Klinger, a deputy associate administrator at PHMSA. "Our first priority is to make sure that the integrity of the line is safe. But as soon as we are satisfied, they [Chevron] can begin operating it again."

Sometimes that certification may take only a few days, she said. Other times, it may take a week or more for PHMSA regulators to be comfortable with the repairs.

Utah motorists still are paying some of the highest prices in the country for gasoline, according to AAA Utah, which monitors pump prices in the state.

On Monday, the average cost of a gallon of unleaded regular in Utah stood at $2.95, the fifth highest in the nation. Only Alaska ($3.49), Hawaii ($3.47), California ($3.07) and Washington ($2.98) had higher prices.

AAA Utah spokeswoman Rolayne Fairclough agreed that, in the short term, the amount of crude in storage at Chevron's refinery will be the determining factor on whether there is any impact on gasoline prices.

"I certainly hope there won't be any impact on prices," she said. "This would be a very unfortunate time for [gasoline] supplies to be disrupted since we are now facing the beginning of the summer driving season."

Tribune reporter Judy Fahys contributed to this story.

Spill chain of command

» The first responder -- in this case the Salt Lake City Fire Department -- coordinates the response. Chevron, called the "responsible party," lines up the cleanup contractors who do the work, while agencies such as the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Utah Division of Water Quality, the Salt Lake Valley Health Department and others collect information and ensure response measures work.

» The cleanup plan, which Chevron says will focus on 18 areas, has yet to be announced. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the EPA and others will examine the strategy to ensure vital resources are restored. Wildlife officials, for instance, have an obligation to uphold wildlife-protection laws.

» The investigation continues at the direction of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which inspects, regulates and enforces oil and gas pipelines that run between states. The office has an investigator reviewing data at Chevron's Bellaire, Texas, pipeline-control center and another in Salt Lake City examining the spill itself. A section of the damaged pipe has been sent to a metallurgy laboratory in hope of learning more about why the 10-inch line failed.

» At least one additional state investigation is under way by water regulators, who have said they are almost certain to issue a notice of violation, possibly in a few weeks.

Judy Fahys