Oil company sues Utah county over pipeline restrictions
Tesoro Corp. is suing Summit County, claiming that the county’s new ordinances restricting proposed underground pipelines are an attempt to trump federal law.
Tesoro wants to build the Uinta Express Pipeline to carry waxy crude oil from the Uinta Basin to Salt Lake City area refineries. The U.S. Forest Service is preparing a federal environmental impact statement on the proposed 135-mile pipeline, which would traverse six Utah counties.
But Summit County in late June passed three ordinances designed to limit where such a pipeline could go and how it could be built.
For instance, no pipeline could run within 2,500 feet of any wetlands, natural creek, pond, river, reservoir, school or other high-use building, or within 500 feet of other structures.
The 2,500-foot requirement is tantamount to preventing any pipeline in the county, the lawsuit contends. Filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, it also alleges the county deprived Tesoro of its constitutional due process rights by failing to follow Utah open government laws.
The county did not give enough notice on its website of the council’s June 25 meeting, did not print the notice in a general circulation newspaper and did not notify affected property owners, as required by Utah law, the lawsuit says.
Summit County Attorney David Brickey said Friday, "We think the ordinances are appropriate and fair and we will defend aggressively the decisions of the Summit County Council."
The lawsuit says two of the ordinances — No. 826 pertaining to Snyderville Basin and No. 827 applying to eastern Summit County — impose restrictions that do not match the federal pipeline safety act. It adds the ordinances could "fall afoul" of the National Environmental Policy Act and Federal Water Pollution Control Act.
The ordinances also interfere with the Forest Service’s role in approving an acceptable corridor for the pipeline, the suit says.
It asks a federal judge to block the county from enforcing the ordinances, which include No. 825, county-wide regulations for pipelines carrying hazardous liquids or materials.
Brickey said Summit County did not previously have ordinances spelling out how proposed pipelines should be handled.
But at least 30 percent of the Wasatch Front’s water comes through his county, so it has a significant interest in assuring the water is not polluted by a pipeline rupture, he said.
Water companies along the Wasatch Front have filed comments with the Forest Service, warning of the potentially disastrous effects of any spill from such a pipeline.
"The impact of something that failed and caused environmental damage would be significant, not only to residents of the Kamas Valley but any down-water residents," he said.
Oil leaks into water supplies, such as the rupture of a Chevron pipeline along Red Butte Creek in Salt Lake City, "are not something that’s cleaned up in 30 days," Brickey noted.
Tesoro says its 12-inch pipeline could deliver 60,000 barrels of oil a day, and would be built and operated to high safety standards. The company sees it as a safer and more efficient way of carrying crude oil, now transported by tanker trucks over the highways, to refineries.