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SALT LAKE CITY -- Until a Chevron oil pipeline in Red Butte Canyon broke last weekend, most Salt Lake residents didn't know it was there. But it's been there for a half-century while the city was growing around it.
How worried should we be? And what if that pipeline break had taken place above our drinking water supply?
Maybe you've seen the pipeline signs without thinking much about what's underground. But the same pipeline carries crude oil right through the watershed that supplies a million people with drinking water.
Are we ready for the next pipeline break?
If crude oil gets into our water supply, the first to know might be wildlife in the water, such as goldfish or water fleas.
According to Daryl Devey with the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, a computer system "actually tracks the movements of these little bugs."
It sounds an alarm at the water treatment plant if the fleas or the fish misbehave, or if other electronic sensors detect a problem.
"[It] allows them to have an early warning system that there's some type of contaminant in the river," Devey said.
Much of our drinking water comes down the Provo River from Deer Creek and Jordanelle reservoirs. Chevron's crude oil pipeline crosses just above Jordanelle. Water managers believe even a big spill would be safely contained at the banks of the reservoir.
"The drinking water would be safe out of Jordanelle," Devey said.
Noel de Nevers of the University of Utah Department of Chemical Engineering said pipeline monitoring systems are generally effective; leaks and accidents are quite rare.
The Central Utah Water Conservancy District says in a major spill, alternate water sources can be brought into play. The District can't imagine a spill big enough to shut down our drinking water.
The pipeline enters the Salt Lake Valley near Hogle Zoo, cuts across the University of Utah campus and through the higher Avenues.
In the 1990s Sue Jensen-Weeks tried to stop a residential development here.
"The pipeline runs very shallow in many sections of this development and park," she said. "Crude oil is definitely not a safe product to have in urban areas."
Noel de Nevers, professor emeritus of the University of Utah Department of Chemical Engineering said, "A hole the size of a quarter can easily put out 50 gallons a minute."
de Nevers did calculations on the Chevron leak and says the blow-out pressure was not excessive.
"It would be like putting your hand in front of a garden hose," he said. "It wouldn't have blown your hand off."
He says pipeline monitoring systems are not perfect but are generally effective; leaks and accidents are quite rare.
"I live comfortably with the fact the pipeline's a couple of miles from my house. Among the things I worry about that's not very high on my list," de Nevers said.
Chevron told us Tuesday if Salt Lake refineries got all of their crude oil by truck, it would take 750 tanker trucks a day. The risks of that, they argue, would be far higher -- and more costly to consumers -- than a pipeline.