Pipeline breach spills oil into southern Utah’s San Juan River

(Photo courtesy of Zak Podmore, Echo Canyon Journal) A cleanup crew contains oil Saturday that was released into the San Juan River near Montezuma Creek in Utah’s San Juan County.

A small oil spill contaminated the San Juan River after a buried 6-inch transfer line ruptured near the southern Utah community of Montezuma Creek early Friday.

About 28 barrels of produced water and crude oil were released by the time the pipeline operator, Elk Petroleum, could shut down the line, according to Kevin Okleberry, spills coordinator with the Utah Division of Water Quality. The ruptured pipeline collects production liquids from several wells in the Greater Aneth Oil Field.

The failure released hydrocarbons onto federal land and into Bucket Wash, which was flowing at the time with snowmelt, pushing the material into the San Juan.

“What would have been a minor spill wound up going a lot farther,” Okleberry said. “Enforcement action will be considered because you had a spill that reached the live waters of the state.”

Officials praised the oil company’s response, calling it “aggressive” and “proactive,” and credited it with limiting the damage.

The company rigged booms across the San Juan to keep the oil from spreading downriver toward Lake Powell. The spill hit the river about 16 miles upstream from Sand Island, a popular put-in spot for boaters outside Bluff.

“We put booms down at Sand Island,” said Jeff Roedell, Elk’s Four Corners business unit manager. “We wanted to make sure we got in front of any oil and we dammed up Bucket Wash where it joins the river."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency responded to the remote spot to coordinate the cleanup over the weekend. It was in its mop-up phase Tuesday.

Roedell said Elk’s crews unearthed the ruptured line and discovered a small corrosion hole. The line remains out of service.

According to the company’s estimates, the spill released five barrels of crude oil and another 23 gallons of wastewater that comes off the ground with oil.