Mayor Ralph Becker: Chevron is not to be trusted

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A mistake made just after last summer's oil spill in Red Butte Canyon is what ultimately caused the most recent leak. That finding prompted federal authorities today to lay out procedures Chevron must follow to reopen the pipeline.

The pipe was not winterized and fluid left in the valve may have caused or contributed to the second leak, when that water froze and broke the valve.

That Dec. 1 fracture of a joint in a 6-inch valve filled a catchment vault with up to 500 barrels of oil, some of which migrated to a grassy area about 500 feet from the June spill.

Corrective action order issued

The ensuing "corrective action order" issued Wednesday by the agency requires Chevron to craft a plan to meet safety regulations and draw up both short and long-term plans that specifically address ways to prevent a similar leak to that of the Dec. 1 incident near Red Butte Gardens.

The order calls for a laundry list of things Chevron needs to do before the pipeline can reopen, such as installing an external leak detection system, monitoring all valve vaults and coming up with a re-start plan before operations can resume.

In the order, regulators call the troubled pipeline a "serious" threat and ordered Chevron to take a dozen steps before seeking approval to operate it again.

"Having reviewed the preliminary findings, I find that continued operation of the Number 2 Line without corrective measures would be hazardous to life, property and the environment," wrote Jeffrey D. Wiese, assistant administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The order says that on Dec. 4, when Chevron removed the affected valve, a small amount of unidentified fluid was found in one of its components. The fluid, which is believed to have caused the valve to fail, has been sent to a laboratory for further analysis. Water was put into the 10-inch in diameter pipeline with a dye for a 4-hour pressure test conducted before the pipeline could become operational after the June 12 spill.

In that June 12 incident, federal investigators believe an electrical arc from a nearby power pole caused a hole the size of a quarter.

The leak went undetected for 10 hours, sending much of the product into nearby Red Butte Creek and into the pond at Liberty Park.

Chevron was fined $423,600 in connection with the 800-barrel spill, with federal investigators noting the company's leak detection system was inadequate. Although the company routinely performs aerial surveys to check the integrity of the pipeline, the agency said the company needs to more aggressively tackle the overgrowth of vegetation in critical areas along the pipeline, which feeds Chevron's Beck Street refinery.

In contrast to this latest spill, there was not a corrective action order issued by the federal agency because the cause of the pipeline failure was identified fairly quickly, said Julia Valentine, a spokeswoman for the agency.

"PHMSA required Chevron to patrol the pipeline right-of-way specifically for the presence of electric installations near their pipelines," she said. "Chevron also removed vegetation obscuring aerial views of the rights-of-way in the Salt Lake City area. After the failed pipe was repaired and tested, Chevron resumed service."

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker responds

Becker says the city trusted Chevron to properly clean up after the first oil spill. He says basic safety measures were not followed and that the city cannot trust Chevron.

Becker announced plans Thursday to hire a third-party consultant to make sure Chevron is doing what it says it is doing.

"It's frustrating for us and for the whole community when we see a company that obviously has the capacity to do things exceptionally well," he said. "I'm not questioning their intentions here, but it didn't happen and that's not acceptable for us."

Becker met with federal regulatory officials this week in Washington, D.C., asking the pipeline remain dormant until all safety concerns have been satisfied.

Becker wants an independent analysis of the 60-year-old pipeline, a step the agency has approved. Calling it a "danger too serious to ignore," Becker said the prospect of another leak is unacceptable.

"It really needs to go much more beyond the integrity of the pipeline," said Jeff Niermeyer, Salt Lake City's director of public utilities. "It wasn't necessarily the pipeline that failed, it was the operations of the pipeline that failed."

Residents react

Those who live near Red Butte Creek say the federal order is a step in the right direction, but that it falls short.

Peter G. Hayes, a representative of the Citizen's Response Committee, says he wants to see more egregious fines against Chevron. He also says action must be taken beyond just making sure the pipeline operates safely.

"The people I've spoken to who live along the creek that were affected directly, who had property damaged, who had families go to the hospital, they want that pipeline moved," he said. "They want it out of there, and Chevron has the money to do that."

Peter G Hayes, a representative of the Citizens' Response Committee, said, "I think the federal decision is in the right direction, turning off the pipeline now for inspection. However, I think it falls short. What needs to happen is they need to move the pipeline."

The valve that leaked has been secured by the U.S. Department of Transportation and will be sent to a metallurgical forensics laboratory for analysis, Chevron spokesman Mickey Driver said.

Chevron issued a statement saying, "We are in the process of inspecting valves and other equipment along our pipeline, and we have begun to work on a plan to comply with the requirements of PHMSAs order. CPL apologizes to the citizens of Salt Lake City."

As of now, federal authorites have not given Chevron a timeline to meet all the requirements needed to reopen the pipeline.

To read the entire statement regarding the Corrective Action Orderstatement [CLICK HERE].


Story compiled with contributions from [Amy Joi O'Donoghue](<mailto:>), Anne Forester and Marc Giauque.

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