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Chevron issued a violation notice for December oil spill

By | Posted - Jan. 20, 2011 at 5:00 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — A violation notice has been issued to Chevron from the Utah Water Quality Board in connection with a December oil spill, listing a number of compliance requests and threatening fines of up to $25,000 per day.

The violation stemmed from a Dec. 1 incident in which a joint of a 6-inch valve fractured, filling a catchment vault with up to 500 barrels of oil, some of which overflowed and migrated to only 500 feet away from an area affected by a spill in June.

Chevron began cleanup and containment efforts, which the Water Quality Board concedes "prevented the surface flow of crude oil," but the board says a water quality sampling that was conducted the day after the spill showed state waters were contaminated.

Having a second spill on the heels of the first one certainly would make matters worse for them in terms of this penalty.

–John Whitehead

"The oil discharged also impacted the ability of workers in the Red Butte Arboretum from being able to work on site without risk," the notice states. "The contaminated soil also has the potential to mobilize and continue to threaten groundwater until it is removed."

It states Chevron has committed four specific violations, including discharging a pollutant that is harmful to state waters and "discharging crude oil in such a way as it did or may have become offensive." They ask that Chevron immediately comply with Utah code in relation to water quality and submit a response and cleanup action report.

Failure to comply, according to the violation, could lead to "a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per day of violation. Under certain circumstances of willfulness or gross negligence, violators may be fined up to $25,000 per day of violation."

The violation notes that this is the second one of its kind to have been issued to Chevron regarding the same pipeline, which runs near Red Butte Creek, in a six-month span. A pipeline breach on June 12 led to the spill of 33,000 gallons of oil into Red Butte Creek, which then traveled downstream to the Liberty Park pond. Some oil made its way to the Jordan River, prompting a public closure of the Jordan River along a central city segment.

"Having a second spill on the heels of the first one certainly would make matters worse for them in terms of this penalty," said John Whitehead with the Utah Division of Water Quality.

A subsequent federal investigation by pipeline safety regulators proposed levying a civil penalty fine of $423,600, citing the company's failure to have an adequate leak detection system and failing to protect the pipeline against possible discharges of electrical current from nearby utility lines.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker called for the pipeline to be closed following the December spill, and it was determined the pipeline would remain closed until the company crafts a plan that meets safety regulations.

The pipeline carries crude oil from Colorado to the Chevron refinery in Salt Lake. With the pipe now shut down west of Hanna, Chevron is filling the gap with tanker trucks from Hanna to Salt Lake.

On average there are now at least two more trucks each hour on the highway -- 50 or more per day -- than there used to be. Chevron says trucks are not as safe, and state regulators agree that trucks have their own safety and environmental risks. But they've helped keep the refinery in normal operation and helped to hold gasoline prices down.

Meanwhile, state officials say last year's twin crisis brought out Chevron's good side as well as its bad.

"I would say Chevron's response, once there was an event, has been rapid and rigorous," Whitehead said. "They have poured the resources into it. Frankly, the second spill was an embarrassment to them, we know that, and they were on it immediately."

Chevron hoped to get the pipeline in operation by Feb. 1. That now seems unlikely.

They still haven't filed a restart plan with the federal pipeline safety agency. Once they file, there's no telling how long the federal review might take.


Story compiled with contributions from Emiley Morgan and John Hollenhorst.

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