Utah regulators cite Chevron for pipeline leak that spilled crude oil in Salt Lake City creek

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chevron cited for oil spill in Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY — State regulators have cited Chevron Corp. for a pipeline leak that spilled crude oil into a Salt Lake City creek.

The leak last month sent an estimated 33,000 gallons of oil into Red Butte Creek. Much of the oil pooled into a pond at the city’s Liberty Park, and regulators say oil traveled downstream into the Jordan River.

The Utah Water Quality Board issued citations to Chevron on Tuesday for unauthorized release of a pollutant, releasing an “offensive” waste and violating water quality standards.

Regulators are waiting on Chevron’s response before deciding whether to levy any fines that could start at $10,000 a day for as long as the waterways were polluted, said Walt Baker, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality. Violations can reach $25,000 a day for pollution discharges that are willful or the result of gross negligence, he said.

Baker planned to meet with Chevron officials Thursday.

Chevron spokesman Dan Johnson said Wednesday that the company had no comment on the citations. “We received the violations and will study them,” he said.

It isn’t clear how long oil leaked from the leaking pipeline.

The city’s Fire Department notified Chevron of the leak at about 6 a.m. June 12, but Mayor Ralph Becker has said residents noticed the odor of an oil spill the previous night. The pipeline, which delivers crude oil from Rangley, Colo., to Chevron’s Salt Lake City refinery, was leaking residual amounts of oil until the morning of June 13.

Chevron resumed operation of the pipeline June 21 following a successful pressure test of a nearly 14-mile section.

The San Ramon, Calif., company has said it believes the leak was caused by a short in a power line that traveled through a utility fence post to melt a hole in the pipe’s casing.

At first, crude oil was pouring down Red Butte Creek, but within days regulators said tests found little chemical traces of oil suspended in water.

“Right now the product is pretty much gone as far as any chemical element. That’s in our rearview mirror,” Baker said Wednesday. “But the results of the spill are still with us.”

The spill killed off critters and bugs that lived in the creek and sustained a food chain, Baker said. That’s the basis for one of the violations.

Creek banks could still be soaked with oil in spots, Baker said.

Cleanup crews planned to flush Red Butte Creek for a second time Thursday to capture any residual oil with absorbent booms. Water will be released from a reservoir east of Salt Lake City, and officials are warning people to stay away as the creek rises by about a foot for two hours.

“We’re working on hand-washing the river,” Johnson said.

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