Crews contain oil leak in Red Butte Canyon

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A fire official says a quick response and freezing temperatures helped contain an oil spill in Red Butte Canyon. This comes less than six months after the same pipeline leaked thousands of gallons of oil into the creek, though Chevron says this leak is unrelated.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker is calling on the federal agency which oversees pipelines to conduct an immediate safety investigation of the Chevron pipeline.

Chevron responds

Dan Johnson of Chevron responded to Becker's comments Thursday, saying he understands.

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"His comments are concerning and we know we need to do a better job," he said. "We will try to work to earn the community's trust."

Johnson says after the first leak in June there was extensive testing done on the pipeline. He says Chevron is disappointed and regrets what happened.

"We've taken responsibility for the spill and I think the public wants to make sure that we own that responsibility," he said. "I'm sure they really don't want another incident from Chevron. We really work hard on our safety protocols to make sure that we do have reliable operations."

"My primary concern is the effect on the trust in the community and our ability to operate the facilities without incident," said Mark Sullivan, manager of Chevron's Salt Lake refinery.

Chevron held a press conference Thursday afternoon. It said it welcomes an investigation and will cooperate fully, but the company would not commit to shutting the pipeline down until the city's safety concerns have been resolved.

Leak reported

Salt Lake City Fire Capt. Michael Harp said firefighters and hazardous materials teams quickly deployed oil-absorbing booms and built earthen dams after Chevron reported the leak at 2200 East Red Butte Canyon Road near 11:22 p.m. Wednesday.

Crews were still on the scene Thursday morning, using seven trucks to vacuum residual oil. Early estimates from Chevron say 100 barrels of oil -- equal to 4,200 gallons -- leaked in this incident. The majority of it was caught in a containment vault. It overflowed, and some oil seeped onto the grassy areas near the Red Butte Amphitheater.

Johnson said, "The important thing here for everyone to know is that no oil has reached Red Butte Creek. It's been contained both by booms and by a berm that's been constructed."

Johnson said the block valve near the Red Butte Amphitheater appears to be the source of the leak. That's a different spot in the same pipeline that leaked 800 barrels of oil in June.

The fire department is working with Chevron to determine what caused this problem.

Mayor Ralph Becker issues harsh criticism of Chevron

Mayor Becker surveyed the scene Thursday morning and said it's disturbing to have two leaks in the same pipeline in one year.

"It obviously makes us very skeptical about the ability of this line to be able to carry the material safely," he said. Becker promised a "complete" assessment." He said the line should be shut down until there is "adequate assurance" that community isn't at risk.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker addressing the media Thursday morning about the second oil leak from a Chevron pipe line. (Laura Seitz/Deseret News)
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker addressing the media Thursday morning about the second oil leak from a Chevron pipe line. (Laura Seitz/Deseret News)

The spill was located about 500 feet from the site of a huge spill in June which sent thousands of gallons of crude oil down Red Butte Creek into the pond at Liberty Park, where cleanup efforts continue.

At a press conference Thursday morning, the mayor used his strongest language yet about the giant oil company, saying, "at this point we can't trust Chevron."

"On behalf of the community [I am] outraged that we've experienced another oil leak on the Chevron pipeline," he said. "Chevron, I think from certainly my perspective, has broken the trust we have in the work that's been done to give us a safe pipeline and to protect our community."

The mayor and city council have sent a letter to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, calling for the pipeline to be shut down indefinitely until the agency conducts its own investigation.

"We need to consider removing that pipeline if it's going to continue to spill," said Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council. "It's just awful and outrageous that Chevron continues to spill oil into our community."

The mayor stressed the pipeline runs through the watershed, which supplies a million people with water on the Wasatch Front. He also credited crews for a quick response in preventing the oil from reaching Red Butte Creek.

Residents react

Salt Lake City residents say they've had enough and are calling for more to be done.

"I'm floored. I'm devastated. This should not happen," said Annie Payne. "We live in the greatest country in the world. Why are we allowing this to happen? We have the technology to improve that pipe."

Those in Salt Lake City who live near Red Butte Creek say the pipeline is a major concern for everyone in the community.

"This second spill puts the exclamation point on what myself, and the citizens on the Citizen Response Committee who have been saying all along, the pipeline is unsafe and needs to be moved," said resident Peter Hayes.

"They are kind of paying these fines to pollute," Payne said. "They have no interest in upgrading that pipeline and it is at our expense, is at Salt Lake City residents' expense."

"The guys at Chevron -- Mark Sullivan is a very nice man, but I'm sorry, trust is gone. There is no trust," Hayes said.

Rep. Jim Matheson said federal pipeline safety inspectors have been dispatched to the scene. He said just last month, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a compliance order to Chevron with regards to the leak in June.

The order required improved leak detection, better patrolling and faulted current protection.

Matheson said, "Quick response by Salt Lake City emergency crews appears to have kept oil from the creek, but clearly this second leak is a concern. I will be in close communication with pipeline safety officials to make sure that permanent solutions are found and implemented."

The city says based on initial air monitoring at the spill site, some vapors are present and residents with sensitivities should call the Incident Hotline 1-866-752-6340. Air monitoring updates will be posted at Residents also can call 801-535-7171 with questions or concerns.


Story written with contributions from Andrew Adams, John Daley and the DMC News Division.


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