Chevron has purged all the leftover oil from its accident-prone pipeline and now that officials say it is stable, the oil giant wants to crank on the crude in "early January."
That aggressive timeline came as news Monday to the federal pipeline safety agency (which ultimately grants permission) and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who say every safety standard first must be met a process that could take significantly longer.
"We're not prepared for it to open until we have assurances that it's safe," said Becker spokeswoman Lisa Harrison Smith. "That is why we hired a third-party consultant."
The ink is not even dry on that deal, designed to usher in an independent probe of a pipeline that has belched 1,300 barrels of oil in two separate spills near Red Butte Garden during the past six months.
Still, Chevron, which is trucking oil to its Salt Lake City refinery, must come up with a suggested date, says company spokesman Mickey Driver.
"For planning purposes, that's when we would look to be starting it back up," he said, referencing a news release updating last weekend's purge that concludes Chevron is working with the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) "on preparations to restart the pipeline in early January."
"That January timeline is just one, that everything else being equal, is the normal amount of time for us to do what we need to do."
As yet, Chevron has not submitted its required restart plan. Nor has the company completed installation of an external monitoring system, which was dictated under PHMSA's "Corrective Action Order."
Driver insists a new monitoring system also demanded by Becker can be erected "rather quickly."
Even so, the feds' Dec. 8 order calls for physical, visual leak detection at all above-ground valves between eastern Utah's Hanna pump station and the refinery. The system must be installed and operational within 60 days of the order, PHMSA says. "However, we do not rule out any other measures necessary to assure a safe restart."
The order may be amended at any time, says PHMSA spokeswoman Julia Valentine, to protect the safety of the people and environment in Utah's capital.
The action order "placed very stringent safety requirements on Chevron," Valentine added, "that must be met before the agency will authorize a restart, including a return-to-service plan."
Saying he was "outraged" just hours after Chevron's second spill Dec. 1, Becker announced the company no longer could be trusted. He called for a wholesale review of the pipeline that weaves between key water sources and fault lines above the Salt Lake Valley.
Shortly after this month's spill, Gov. Gary Herbert also chimed in. "I appreciate Chevron's quick response," Herbert said, "but I support the city and county's efforts to keep the pipeline shut down until all safety concerns have been resolved."
Driver notes a leaky valve the source of the second spill has not been replaced. Instead, Chevron placed a "sleeve" over that portion of the pipeline to make it continuous. The line has been re-pressurized with nitrogen, says Driver, who notes the company "absolutely" would push back the January start time if PHMSA requires extra precautions.
In the wake of the Dec. 1 mess, Chevron announced it had paid the federal fine of $423,600 that was levied for its June 11-12 spill. After that leak, the pipeline was restarted eight days later.
Driver says Chevron will cooperate with the city's consultant and give him full access "but in parallel to that, we're going to move forward with submitting a restart plan."
"That's a huge mistake," groaned Peter Hayes, a biologist whose Yalecrest home borders the oil-fouled Red Butte Creek. "That pipeline route needs to be abandoned. If they consider [restarting pipeline], they're inhumane, and they have no morals whatsoever."
Hayes would like to see the 50-mile stretch of pipeline hugging the "high-consequence area" dug up and placed in a rural patch. He urged city, county and state leaders to "get a spine" and insist Chevron move the line.
"They [company officials] need to dip a little bit into their pockets and spend their riches to do what they need to do."
Chevron still must submit its restart plan, which will be reviewed then either accepted or rejected by a federal pipeline safety agency before any oil can flow. A third-party pipeline expert, hired by Salt Lake City, is about to launch his investigation of the line to make safety recommendations. Despite Chevron's call to restart the line in early January, the feds have the final say.