SALT LAKE CITY — The price tag for cleaning up after last weekend's Chevron pipeline breach that released 33,000 gallons of crude oil into Red Butte Creek is still unknown, but company officials said Thursday they're ready to start compensating Salt Lake City for its costs related to the mess.
Chevron spokesman Dan Johnson told the Deseret News that work is in progress to reach a formalized agreement in the coming days.
"We are now talking about the way the city is going to get their expenses reimbursed," Johnson said. "We recognize the city's position and the responsibilities we have taken on. We know the taxpayer should not have to pay the burden associated with this spill."
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said he continues to be satisfied with Chevron's efforts but is simultaneously constructing an apparatus to ensure the best interests of the city, its residents and damaged ecosystems are being met.
Embracing an adage made famous by former President Ronald Reagan, Salt Lake City will "trust but verify" the Chevron company's ongoing oil spill cleanup efforts with an expert, independent adviser.
Becker's office announced late Wednesday that the city had hired Seattle-based environmental consultants Dalton, Olmsted & Fluglevand to oversee mitigation efforts under way following the Chevron accident. Principal engineer Paul Fluglevand is in charge of advising the city and reviewing cleanup work, as well as evaluating immediate and long-term impacts.
Fluglevand has extensive experience in the areas of environmental cleanup and habitat restoration and has performed work on large-scale remediation projects in Washington and around the country.
While Chevron and city officials work out money issues, residents who own property damaged by the spilled crude are also lining up for compensation. Becker's office said about 38 claims have been filed with Chevron so far, and there are likely many more to follow.
In an effort to streamline claims processing, Chevron is building a website, expected to be operational in the next few days. An estimated 300-400 parcels were directly or indirectly impacted by oil released in the accident.
Karen Hale, the mayor's communication director, said the city is processing about 30 calls a day from residents proximate to Red Butte Creek on the east side of the city, and "a handful" from west-side residents.
Becker discounted any disparity in cleanup efforts between the two areas of the city. The mayor said he has surveyed the Jordan River at the Red Butte Creek inflow site and said there were "recovery booms up and down the river" and crews present performing ongoing work.
Jeff Salt of the Great Salt Lake Keepers and Jordan River Restoration Network said Wednesday he's monitoring the river daily and has watched conditions improve.
"If you compare the amount of sheen from Sunday to Wednesday, I would say there is about an 80 percent reduction," Salt said. "Chevron's response has been excellent, and I am amazed. … Normally my role as a public activist would be to constantly look for the problem and complain. This time, my role has shifted, and I have been able to report back a positive result."
Salt also said fears that the west side has been neglected are ungrounded.
"I would say to the people on the west side, they have not been forgotten," he said. "There has been great attention paid to the Jordan River. I rarely find myself speaking on behalf of industry. They have spared no expense that I can see."
While the Environmental Protection Agency will ultimately sign off on the remediation of the oil-contaminated ecosystems in Salt Lake City and beyond, federal pipeline safety investigators are working now to determine the cause of the leak and to determine when the pipeline can safely begin operating again.
Patricia Klinger, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety, said the damaged section of the pipeline is being analyzed by an independent metallurgist to determine the cause of the break.
Federal investigators are also reviewing Chevron's logs and control room that monitors sensors that would detect any changes in flow pressure. The pipeline was inspected as late as 2009, Klinger said, and no violations were found.
While she has heard that an electrical arc may have caused a quarter-inch hole in the pipe that precipitated the spill, Klinger stressed that cause is a preliminary finding only.
For the pipeline to once again be operational, Chevron first has to be satisfied with the integrity of the repairs and submit a re-start plan, which will have to meet federal safety requirements, she said.
Both Johnson and Klinger said removal of the oil and remediation of the impacted areas are independent of the pipe once again conveying crude oil to the Beck Street refinery.
Johnson added that the pipeline being shut down has not affected the operations at its refinery.
Updates on cleanup efforts and results of air- and water-quality monitoring can be found on the city's website, www.slcgov.org.