SALT LAKE CITY — At ground zero of the weekend's oil spill into Red Butte Creek, a welding crew is furiously at work, high-voltage power lines swinging overhead.
An extensive labyrinth of absorbent booms snakes across and alongside the creek, amid piles and piles of sandbags intended to help recapture and control the spread of 33,000 gallons of oil.
It is a scene of injury and repair that is in direct contradiction to a lush and blooming rose garden not far away.
At a news conference Monday, Chevron officials revised their estimate of how much oil was released in Saturday's pipeline leak and announced a remediation plan that carves out 18 sections of impacted areas targeted for extensive cleanup.
Mark Sullivan, manager of the company's Beck Street refinery, said the firm is also pursuing a theory on the cause of the pipeline's fracture, which he termed "a very unusual event" not experienced before.
The 10-inch-diameter pipeline that failed is in close proximity to a metal fence and overhead, high-voltage power lines.
Sullivan said an electrical arc might have been substantial enough to blow a hole in the line the size of a quarter.
While Sullivan said there are multiple safety systems in place designed to monitor the pipeline, they are designed to catch typical pipeline failures such as those caused by corrosion or other wear and tear.
Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Dave Eskelsen said a power outage did occur on Salt Lake City's east bench as a result of the storm Friday night.
Wind knocked a tree into a power line near a chain-link fence post not far from the pipeline breach.
"It was a fairly typical power outage for us but it did create an electrical fault," in which the current flowed into the tree, Eskelsen said.
"Their (Chevron's) theory is that there was an electrical arc that traveled down the fence post and into the pipeline. We don't have enough information to say if that was the cause, but we are working with them and are engaged in that process now," he said.
The chain-link fence topped with barbed wire was installed in the early 1980s and is at the juncture where overhead lines go underground, Eskelsen said.
Officials, in the meantime, are continuing to monitor the Jordan River, where an oil sheen has been detected at about 1800 North. So far, authorities say the oil has not made it the Great Salt Lake.
Although concern remains for Jordan River contamination, Sullivan said it's only a "slight sheen" of oil that has been spotted on the river and "it is an amount that is likely cups as opposed to hundreds of gallons."
The Utah Rivers Council issued a statement Monday afternoon, detailing its concern over remediation efforts and seeking assurances that restoration efforts are full-blown.
"This ecosystem has been nuked," said the group's Zach Frankel.
Approximately 1,000 barrels of water mixed with oil have been recaptured from the spill — mostly from Liberty Park — and cleanup efforts are also being focused on one of the hardest hit areas of the stream, between Sunnyside Avenue and about 1100 East.
Sullivan stressed that the company is committed to seeing impacted areas returned to their "pre-spill" condition. "We are fully responsible for any impact on the community and will be there to see it through until the end."
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker added he has been encouraged by Chevron's response. "From the time Chevron became aware of the incident, they have accepted full responsibility and there has been no wavering from that stance."
The release of the oil happened after a pipeline fracture up Emigration Canyon that was first reported Saturday morning.
After the thick sludge coated a section of Red Butte Creek, it was carried along by the stream to the pond at Liberty Park, where hundreds of waterfowl were coated with the oil. They have been taken to Hogle Zoo to be cleansed.
Red Butte Creek eventually dumps in the Jordan River, where additional absorbent booms have been placed.
In addition to DEQ representatives, city officials and Chevron spokesman Dan Johnson will be available to field questions from concerned residents.
Chevron has an emergency response team and several hired contractors working to contain the spill's impact and recapture the oil.
Investigation into the cause of the pipeline fracture is being handled by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which has an office of pipeline safety.
The damaged part of the pipe has been excavated and is being examined for deficiencies.
Chevron has set up a claims number for residents to call — 1-866-752-6340 — and is also going door to door to assess damage.
While Sullivan said Monday he wasn't aware of any safety violations on the line that runs through Salt Lake, a records search conducted by the Deseret News shows there have been several incidents.
Chevron Pipe Line Co. has been fined $244,000 since 2006 for violating federal safety standards on its pipelines nationwide, according to online data posted by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
The company agreed to $81,000 in fines directly for problems with its crude oil pipeline that runs between Rangely, Colo., and Salt Lake City, records show.
That includes agreeing to a $15,000 fine last year for violations that included operating the Duchesne County to Salt Lake City segment of its pipeline while it was "in need of immediate repair" for "more than a month without reducing its operating pressure."
Part of that same penalty also came for what federal officials said were inadequate plans to protect the pipeline from corrosion and to ensure its integrity.
Mark Davis and Victoria Cramer walk their dogs in Liberty Park every day but may take a week off after seeing the mess for themselves this weekend. The park is now open, but the pond remains closed.
"We have our own little Gulf," Cramer said, referring to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"But I've been pleased to see the response. It's been phenomenal," Davis said. "Chevron seems to be stepping up and taking responsibility, unlike BP. It's understandable that they don't want to be thrown in with the rest of the oil companies right now."
Davis said he used to replace underground petroleum tanks at gas stations in the 1970s when regulations were toughened to address corrosion of single-layer steel tanks. He wonders why similar rules aren't in place for oil lines.
"Why do we have pipelines running by creeks and streambeds without catch basins?" he wondered.
The pipeline, installed in 1948, originates in Rangely, Colo., and conveys crude from there through eastern Utah to Chevron's Beck Street facility.
Like Davis, many residents have questioned how the pipeline could be built and operated in an area so pristine.
Chevron spokesman Dan Johnson said the pipeline was in place long before much development occurred in the foothills of Salt Lake County and farther east in Park City.
"We've felt the pressure from the development that has come along since."
Long suspected as a prime area for oil, it wasn't until Chevron sunk a deep well in Rangely in 1931 that the promise of vast amounts of crude became a reality. The Raven A-I discovery well went online two years later, producing 230 barrels a day from sandstone at a depth of more than 6,000 feet.
A website on the Raven A-I discovery well said it was the most productive oil well of all time.
A Deseret News story published in August 1948 noted that work was starting on the pipeline.
The pipeline construction was started from the east in Rangely and in the west from Kimball Junction.
It was the Rangely oil find that led to the Chevron refinery on Beck Street to begin operations in 1948. By 1956, the field was producing at a peak rate of 82,000 barrels a day.
The Rangely operation has since expanded to include the recovery of an estimated 12 million barrels of oil from the shallower Mancos shale. The ruptured pipeline that carries up to 15,000 barrels of oil per day now sits idle as the cause of the rupture is investigated and the U.S. Department of Transportation signs off on repairs.
Johnson said the oil that would be bound for the Beck Street refinery is being captured in reserve tanks.
Contributing: Paul Koepp, Lee Davidson