Environment: Utah cites Chevron in second oil spill

Judy Fahys
Friday, January 21, 2011

The state has slapped Chevron with another violation notice, this one for the second oil spill in six months near Red Butte Garden. No fines were imposed, but that could change — to the tune of $25,000 a day for each violation.

The state’s latest citation is for the Dec. 1 spill, which leaked 21,000 gallons of oil from a cracked valve. The earlier notice, which also assessed no fines, was for a June 11-12 accident in which 33,600 gallons of crude escaped the same pipeline in the foothills east of Salt Lake City. "The issue of fines and penalties is not off the table," Walt Baker, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, said Thursday. "That is something that comes at the end of the [state’s administrative] process, not the beginning."

Chevron already has paid a $423,600 federal fine for the first spill. Baker notified Chevron Pipe Line Co. on Wednesday about the state’s latest violation notice, which accuses the company of breaking five environmental laws in the December leak. He also detailed steps Chevron must take to clean up after the second leak and to prevent future spills.

Spokesman Mickey Driver said the company was just beginning to examine the documents. "Our folks," he said, "want an appropriate amount of time to review [them] before making any comments."

Utah’s Water Quality Board noted Chevron’s rapid response to the second spill — the first one went undetected for hours — but pointed to tests that show crude still affected the air and water. "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 said. "The contaminated soil also has the potential to mobilize and continue to threaten the groundwater until it is removed." Driver said crews are preparing to remove bins of excavated soil from the site next week and continue to clean up after the first spill, which fouled Red Butte Creek, Liberty Park’s pond and stretches of the Jordan River.

The pipeline has been shut down since the December spill. Chevron has been working for weeks on a plan to bring it back on line, but there is no word about when it might get the go-ahead from federal regulators.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who scolded Chevron severely after the spill II, insisted on the pipeline’s closure and wants a third party to sign off on its safety before allowing it to resume funneling oil.

Lisa Harrison Smith, Becker’s spokeswoman, said the city has been comfortable with the state’s oversight so far and is watching Chevron’s response to both spills. State regulators have been wrangling with the company for months about the first violation notice and only this week received the oil giant’s revised response to the state’s allegations and compliance orders. The new violation notice points out that Chevron faces potential civil penalties of up to $10,000 a day for each violation and up to $25,000 per violation per day for "willfulness or gross negligence." fahys@sltrib.com


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