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Diesel spill at Willard Bay much worse than previously thought

Published March 23, 2013 11:54 am

Regulators to Chevron: Don't restart pipeline that closed Willard Bay State Park until we say so.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Chevron's pipeline already has spit out more than 21,000 gallons of diesel fuel near the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge — three times as much as previously thought and on par with the Red Butte Creek spills three years ago — and there's probably more to come.

A split in the lengthwise seam of the pipe that carries fuel from Salt Lake City to Spokane. Wash., is suspected of releasing petroleum into soil and marshes at Willard Bay State Park, according to a preliminary probe by the U.S. Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The steel pipeline is more than 60 years old.

On Friday, the agency ordered the Texas-based company not to restart the pipeline until federal authorities approve the fixes — and then only at 80 percent of its normal pressure and under "continuous patrolling" of a 3-mile segment of the pipeline.

"This Corrective Action Order," said the agency directive, "is being issued under [federal law] to require Chevron Pipe Line Co. (Chevron or Respondent) to take the necessary corrective action to protect the public, property and the environment from potential hazards associated with the recent failure on Chevron's #1 Oil line in Willard, Utah."

Local, state and federal officials have been carrying out an emergency cleanup at the site since Tuesday. Their top goal is to remove the diesel before an influx of migrating birds due in the next two to three weeks, although tundra swans, snow geese and pelicans have started arriving.

"It is critical that we work to recover as much of the spilled diesel fuel as possible," said Curtis Kimbel, who is overseeing the cleanup as EPA's on-scene coordinator. "Now that we have a better picture of the amount of diesel fuel spilled from the pipeline, we can more accurately benchmark the progress of cleanup efforts."

Authorities have been monitoring the water, hopeful their net of absorbent booms and vacuum trucks can grab any contamination before it slips into the Willard Bay Reservoir and into nearby nesting and feeding habitat. About 90 emergency workers employed by Chevron had retrieved more than 21,000 gallons of the spilled fuel, the agencies and Chevron said Friday in a joint statement. As much as 6,500 gallons might remain, making the grand total of spilled diesel as high as 27,550 gallons.

Initial reports stated that up to 6,000 gallons had spilled from the pipeline. On Wednesday, Chevron raised that estimate to more than 8,000 gallons.

John Whitehead, assistant director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, said Friday only preliminary water tests had come back from being analyzed for petrochemicals, and they showed "trace elements of related compounds [at] very low" concentrations.

"We're not seeing anything to be worried about at this point," he said. "But its way too early to derive final conclusions."

Chevron, which wouldn't say previously how much fuel was involved or why the pipe might have failed, had no comment about the corrective order or the latest data on the leak.

First reported Monday afternoon, the leak appeared to come from a spot near Interstate 15. Fuel flowed into a ditch along the interstate and then into a channel that flows into a freshwater reservoir on Willard Bay about 100 yards from the freeway.

Two campers and the Willard Bay State Park manager's family were evacuated from the site. Two beavers were also rescued and one was sent to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah in Ogden.

Willard Bay comprises nearly 10,000 acres of fresh water atop the Great Salt Lake floodplain, north and west of Ogden. In addition to wildlife, it supports populations of crappie, walleye, wiper and catfish in its popular fishery. The area is also popular with boaters.

The first of two leaks from Chevron's crude oil pipeline spilled 33,600 gallons of crude oil near Red Butte Garden in Salt Lake City's eastern foothills in June 2010. A second spill in December 2010 spilled 21,000 gallons when a valve froze and cracked near the site of the first spill.

The company paid an estimated $43 million in cleanup costs, fines and other spill-related expenses. Most of the cleanup was done by that winter, but spot-cleaning and monitoring is expected for years to come. Plus, there is still a civil lawsuit over the spill.

fahys@sltrib.com