Chevron revises oil spill estimates; cause still unknown

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The day after Chevron's second Salt Lake City oil spill this year, estimates of how much oil leaked are revised -- and they're considerably higher.

Chevron now says 350 to 500 barrels of oil leaked from a failed valve near Red Butte Creek Thursday, not the 100 barrels first estimated.

The cause is still unknown and many questions remain. The big question is, how did this happen again?


A spokesman told KSL Chevron still thinks the problem is with a block valve, but the company hasn't had direct access to see the valve yet because it's still contaminated with oil.

Friday, federal pipeline regulators and representatives from the Chevron, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake county, the health department and the State Division of Water Quality received an update, as did a "frustrated" Rep. Jim Matheson.

"I'm alarmed. My gosh, this is two times on the same pipeline in the same year. It raises a lot of questions among all of us," Matheson said.

Once the cause has been determined, he continued, "then you figure out if there's changes that need to be made to regulations or how we hold people responsible."

The likely culprit is a faulty valve that controls -- and can divert -- the flow of oil.

"It clearly looks like it's in the block valve area itself, not the pipeline," said Chevron spokesperson Dan Johnson.

Chevron now says up to 500 barrels leaked, not 100 as first thought, a revision based on the amount of oil found in a concrete containment vault.

"A lot of the oil was contained in the vault itself," Johnson said. "There's some that spilled over, but we're estimating there was more oil. But again, it's what got released into the environment versus what was maintained in the vault."

Robin Carbaugh, with city ombudsman for the oil spill, was hired by the city to field complaints. She says she's heard from only a dozen people so far, compared to roughly 100 last summer.

"I am getting phone calls," Carbaugh said. "People first and foremost wanted to know, is this for real? Did we have another oil spill? And I was able to inform them yes, we did."

The state is monitoring above and below the site, taking samples at three locations twice a day to see if any oil migrated into the creek.

"We are trying to monitor it and I think from everything I've seen, we've dodged the bullet, if you will," said John Whitehead, assistant director of the Division of Water Quality. "The stuff did not get to the creek, so we're very glad about that."

Chevron says crews will continue the cleanup, and they're making progress on that front. Johnson says that 95 percent of the leaked oil has now been recovered, which should allow Chevron access to that broken block valve soon.


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