Red Butte Creek oil pipeline set to reopen

Chevron » A high-pressure, 24-hour test justifies letting the oil flow again, company says.
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Chevron plans Monday to resume use of the pipeline that caused the Red Butte Creek oil spill, following a completed 24-hour, high-pressure test of the line.

The company over the weekend pumped water into the 13.7-mile section of pipeline between the refinery north of Salt Lake City and Red Butte Garden in the foothills near the University of Utah. Officials said the pipe held up under 300 pounds per square inch pressure, about five times more than normal.

Chevron's plan to start using the pipeline was approved by the U.S. Transportation Department's pipeline safety office and the Unified Command, a team comprised of Chevron, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Environmental Quality, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake Valley Health Department and Salt Lake City.

"We're pretty confident the pipeline is in good shape," Chevron spokesman Dan Johnson said.

The pipeline transports about 14,000 to 15,000 barrels of oil a day -- that's about 588,000 to 630,000 gallons -- mainly from the Rangely Oil Field in Colorado, he said.

A leak in the pipeline was discovered June 12, but not before 33,000 gallons of oil flowed into Red Butte Creek and on into Liberty Park pond and the Jordan River.

Chevron on Saturday used a flushing technique, that has been successful in other spills, to move oil out of the creek into Liberty Park Pond, where it was recovered by vacuum tankers. A surge of water was released from Red Butte Reservoir to boost stream flow for about 90 minutes. Absorbent booms spanned the stream and the pond at numerous locations to catch floating particles of oil.

The spill cleanup team reports that just 100 barrels of oil, about 4,200 gallons, remain in the three contaminated waterways. Six hundred of the 800 barrels spilled have been recovered, the company said. And 100 barrels evaporated, said the Unified Command.

Creekside homeowner Brandon Bennett said Sunday he was not surprised the pipeline was reopening. Economic pressures were driving the company to resume normal operations quickly, he said.

He would have liked to have seen stepped up safety precautions and a better effort to communicate the clean-up plans.

"We're expecting the same kind of urgency," he said, "in cleaning the spill up."

Yalecrest resident Tom Kurrus also expected the pipeline to quickly be put back into use, but had hoped information would have been available about how the sensors were tested -- they failed for hours to sound an alarm about the leak -- and how future monitoring will take place.

The speed of the approval process was a bit astonishing, he said. "It surprises me that the government agencies -- that you could get them to do this on the weekend."

A group of creekside neighbors met Saturday at Westminster College, Kurrus said. Their discussion focused on spill-related lawsuits under consideration, and touched on other issues.

Kurrus' goal is simple: "My concern is cleaning up the creek."

Cleanup of remaining oil and air-quality monitoring continue around the clock, company officials say.