Officials hope to finish diesel cleanup before bird migration
By Judy Fahys
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Mar 20 2013 12:43PM
Willard Bay State Park • Trucks and tankers filled the paved lot where tourists ordinarily park their cars for beach-side picnics.
Men wearing hard hats and work boots gathered where bird-watchers normally ramble this time of year to glimpse migrating tundra swans, snow geese and pelicans.
And the gate to park’s north marina remained closed Wednesday, two days after Chevron Pipeline Co. discovered a leak in a 168-mile diesel transport line that connects its Salt Lake City refinery to Idaho.
At the company’s West Valley City offices, Chevron gave a brief status report on the spill, the company’s third big one in less than three years.
"We’re trying to repair the line, to get to the root cause of the incident," said Chevron’s Terry Duhon, declining to say if this line has had past problems and insisting this leak is "nonrelated" to the others.
Crews have already removed 195 barrels, or 8,190 gallons, of diesel from a 7-acre area of concern. Although the pipeline has been shut down and officials say the leaking has stopped, it is unclear what caused diesel to escape the 8-inch pipe, how much fuel spilled and when it might be cleaned up.
This section of the pipeline runs underground along Interstate 15, and the diesel backed up behind a beaver dam in a marshy ditch between the highway and the parking lot.
A creek connects the ditch to the reservoir about 100 yards away, and workers vacuumed the floating petroleum off the contaminated water and into tanks that can be shipped back to the refinery for reprocessing.
Yellow absorbent booms snake into the freshwater reservoir to sop diesel that might escape from the creek. And, while there’s no sign of fuel reaching the reservoir so far, state and federal environmental scientists continue testing to make sure.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s on-scene coordinator, Curtis Kimbel, is focused on keeping the petroleum from the reservoir. Responders also want to finish cleaning up before bird migration heats up in the next two or three weeks.
"EPA is working with the state to make sure the leak is cleaned up entirely," said Kimbel, who works out of EPA’s Denver office. "It appears we do have the resources to properly clean this up."
State and federal wildlife officials are also on the scene, along with the U.S. Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the agency that investigated Chevron for the June and December spills in 2010 that released 54,600 gallons of crude oil at Red Butte Garden near the University of Utah.
PHMSA spokeswoman Jeannie Layton said her agency already has started its probe of the most recent Chevron pipeline failure. It wants to know "what caused the pipeline to fail [and] what actions the operator can take to return the pipeline to a safe operating condition."