The Chevron pipeline that leaked thousands of gallons of diesel fuel near the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge has been back in service for a week.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert may have been one of the first people outside the "Unified Command" emergency response team to hear about the quiet resumption of diesel deliveries. He got a briefing on the 27,500-gallon spill Thursday from Chevron Pipe Line Co. President Randall Curry.
The Unified Command made up of environmental regulators, oversight agencies, first responders and Chevron was scheduled to provide an update on the cleanup's progress on Friday but scrapped it.
Gareth Johnstone, a spokesman for the company, declined to discuss how the startup went. He would only say that the company completed the steps required by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and last weekend resumed shipping diesel through its 760-mile Northwest Products pipeline.
"At this time," he said in an email statement responding to a question fromThe Salt Lake Tribune, "the line has returned to normal operations at a restricted pressure."
No public announcement was made by the response team in contrast to how such incidents were handled after previous leaks.
The federal pipeline oversight agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation, gave its approval for starting the Salt Lake City-to-Spokane pipeline on March 27 the day before Herbert blamed federal regulators for lax oversight and asserted that state regulators could do a better job.
PHMSA referred to a "corrective action order" issued March 22 that outlined the key steps Chevron needed to take before it could begin operating the pipeline again.
The requirements included:
• An incremental startup done during daylight so patrollers could make sure there were no leaks as pressure increased;
• An in-depth analysis of any other weak spots that might exist between Salt Lake City and a pump station 117 miles up the line;
• Continuous patrols along the three miles of pipeline around the Willard Bay spill area until the successful completion of hydrostatic testing contemplated within 30 days;
• Limited pressure in the pipeline to 80 percent of failure until the pipeline agency signs off on all of the corrective actions.
Chris Hoidal, director of the agency's Western regional office, wrapped up his letter by saying his agency would continue to oversee Chevron's compliance with the safety requirements.
"Our engineers," he wrote, "will be on site to monitor the resumption of oil transportation and verify that the restart plan is being adhered to."
The Utah spill's low profile contrasts with three other petroleum pipeline leaks that have been in the news this week in Arkansas, Texas and Ontario, Canada.
"In these three latest oil disasters, oil companies have proven they are irresponsible," said Michael Brune, director of the Sierra Club, in a statement. "Transporting toxic crude oil and tar sands in particular is inherently dangerous, more so because oil companies care about profit, not public safety."
In Utah, Chevron has been responsible for two big spills in less than three years, one in June 2010 and another less than six months later. The two incidents at Red Butte Creek totaled 54,600 gallons and prompted the federal pipeline agency to fine the company $423,600. It cost roughly $43 million for the company to clean up the mess in Salt Lake City's neighborhoods and Liberty Park.
Curiously, the second spill happened because water from the hydrostatic testing froze and cracked a valve.
The Willard Bay cleanup has been underway at the state park's North Marina picnic grounds since the day after the leak was discovered, March 18.
Absorbent boom is stretched out into Willard Reservoir to capture any contamination that has drifted past the absorbent pads and vacuum-hose trucks that have been deployed to capture the fuel. A preliminary investigation has determined that a seam split along more than six feet of the pipeline, which was built around 1950.
As of March 29, crews had gathered about 15,000 gallons of the diesel. Six beavers were evacuated and are being nursed back to health, but there have been no other reports of significant impacts on wildlife or their habitats. The North Marina remains closed.
John Whitehead, deputy director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, said water tests continued to show traces of diesel in the reservoir, but levels of the contaminants are decreasing.