Chevron: We won't be difficult on oil-spill cleanup costs
Don't expect Red Butte Creek oil-spill costs to be debated in Congress -- or taxpayers to be stuck with the tab.
Chevron is pledging to pay all public invoices -- expected to reach well into the millions -- for cleanup services rendered by Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and state agencies.
Unlike the BP Gulf disaster, in which federal hand-wringing has politicized the reparations, the cleanup of Salt Lake City's environmental crisis appears straightforward.
"We are very conscious about the costs to the taxpayer," Chevron spokesman Dan Johnson said Thursday. "We have no reason, given the nature of this incident, to be difficult to work with. We're not going to be. We've said we're responsible and we're going to be paying legitimate claims."
Johnson says the oil giant will work through all submitted invoices -- work ranges from water sampling and staff overtime to consultant fees -- and honor them. Lawyers are drafting binding documents for what now is primarily a verbal agreement.
Neither Chevron officials nor government agencies have yet compiled total cost estimates. (The price tag on private damage, which the company also has vowed to cover, remains unknown as well.)
On the city front, the cleanup effort has involved firefighters, police, public services staff and a variety of other departments coordinated by the capital's emergency-operations director. An expenditure log, which soon will be publicly released, still is being compiled, according to Lisa Harrison Smith, the mayor's spokeswoman.
"Do we expect them to pay? Yes. Are we satisfied? No," Smith said. "We won't be satisfied until it's done."
Gina Chamness, the city's budget director, says workers' time, as well as the cost of a Seattle-based environmental consultant, will be invoiced.
"Our attorneys are working on written communication with Chevron," she said, "to make sure Chevron makes the reimbursements."
Mayor Ralph Becker has said some city crews are working 12-hour shifts. While 21,000 gallons of oil have been recovered, Chevron officials estimate 12,000 gallons remain in the ground.
Gripped by anemic sales taxes and a slowdown in commercial building, government agencies face bleak budgets. In that regard, the spill's timing is even harder to stomach.
"Given the state of the finances at the state, city and county, they're not going to miss an opportunity to get compensated," Johnson acknowledged. "These are bright, honest people. They're not going to be asleep at the switch if they can get their expenses reimbursed by Chevron. I don't have a concern that that's going to slip at all."
Craig Silotti, finance director for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, expects Chevron will honor its verbal agreement to cover costs. To be sure, Silotti says, something will be cemented in writing.
"We've taken steps in our accounting area to flag any costs directly related to the spill," he explained. "I prefer that it will all be documented so it's all on the up and up."
Because the focus has remained on scrubbing Red Butte Creek, Liberty Park's pond and the Jordan River, no timetable has been set for payments. But Johnson notes Chevron huddled with officials at City Hall on Thursday, and he predicts a specific payment plan in the coming days.
"We're expecting that this is going to be worked out very comfortably for them."
New water tests reveal the harmful vapors from the Red Butte Creek oil spill are fading.
Walt Baker, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, said Thursday it was no surprise that such hazardous chemicals as benzene and toluene had declined even further since the weekend, when levels indicated no immediate threat to people or aquatic life.
More detailed tests are under way -- including an analysis that would confirm, or counter, any link between the Chevron crude oil and a sheen spotted in the Great Salt Lake wetlands. Baker also said the state has established an ongoing water-sampling plan with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Chevron.
"We need to know what level of cleaning needs to occur," Baker said, "to get these streams back to where they were."
Personal expense claims related to the Red Butte Creek oil spill stand at 32, but Chevron expects that number to rise.
"We know some more will be coming," says Chevron spokesman Dan Johnson, who notes some of the early filings by Salt Lake City residents will be consolidated. Johnson reiterated the oil giant's pledge to pay for all damage.
"We are obviously not trying to make an issue of this," he says. "It's a philosophy of recognizing we are responsible for the spill."
To file a claim with Chevron, call 866-752-6340.
Derek P. Jensen