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Chevron oil spill cleanup continues near Red Butte Gardens, new cleanup costs are in

Published: Friday, Dec. 3 2010 5:37 p.m. MST

Cleanup crews continue to work around the oil spill at Red Butte Gardens on the University of Utah campus, Dec. 3, 2010, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Chevron officials have revised the amount of oil that leaked from the company's pipeline near Red Butte Gardens. The estimate now is 350 to 500 barrels of oil, most of which was contained in a catchment vault.

That is up from the original 100-barrel estimate initially released earlier this week when the spill was first detected.

On Friday, several vacuum trucks and cleanup crews remained on the scene of the spill, where 90 percent of the oil has been recovered, according to Chevron officials.

"A lot of the oil was contained in the vault itself and there's some that spilled over, but we're estimating there was more oil. But again, it's what got released into the environment versus what was maintained in the vault" that is the primary concern, Chevron spokesman Dan Johnson said.

The oil that did overflow from the vault migrated to a grassy area about 500 feet from the site of a spill earlier this year.

Salt Lake City Fire Capt. Michael Harp said Friday that half of the contaminated soil had been removed.

Unlike the June incident — which released 800 barrels into Red Butte Creek — the Wednesday night leak was detected early by the company's monitoring system in Houston and the pipe was shut off immediately. A Chevron crew was sent to the scene, where employees discovered the source of the leak. Earthen berms were immediately put into place, as well as absorbent booms that were put into the creek as a precaution.

None of the oil seeped into the riparian watershed, but the state Division of Water Quality is sampling in three locations twice a day as a precaution.

"We are trying to monitor it and I think from everything we've seen, we've dodged the bullet if you will," said John Whitehead, the division's assistant director. "The stuff did not get into the creek, so we are very glad about that."

The city said based on initial air quality monitoring at the spill site by Industrial Hygiene Inc. Environmental, the independent consultants contracted by Salt Lake City since the first spill, low vapor levels have been detected. Those levels are below the threshold of short-term health hazards, the city said. They advised, however, that anyone experiencing discomfort or symptoms should seek medical help or call the Salt Lake Valley Health Department at 801-534-4600 with questions or concerns.

Robin Carbaugh, the city liaison fielding calls from the public regarding the spill, said she's only heard from about a dozen people so far, in contrast to roughly 100 calls fielded as a result of the June spill.

"People first and foremost wanted to know, is this for real," she said.

Two investigators with the federal regulatory agency over pipeline safety are in Salt Lake City and met with public officials and Chevron representatives.

Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker tapped an independent environmental consultant to begin oversight of the work at the pipeline and one of the consultants was on site Friday. After this latest spill, Becker said Chevron had breached the community's trust and called for an indefinite shutdown of the line until assurances are in place that it can safely operate.

Becker said his call for leaving the pipe dormant has the support of Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, the governor's office and members of Utah's congressional delegation.

"We've got to find out if this pipe was just tested, after the incident in June. … Why do we have a leak just a few months after?" said Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, whose district includes the Red Butte Creek area.

The transport of crude oil and other "hazardous materials" in Utah lies within the purview of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and only a handful of states, such as Minnesota or Virginia, have direct oversight because of an agreement with the federal agency.

Meantime, updated totals released by the city show the financial effect — at least in one dimension — that the June 11 spill cost Chevron.

So far, Chevron has paid the city $242,634 for various expenses racked up during the response to June's spill, including those by public safety and the water department. As of Dec. 1, the total costs are at $372,275, some of which has not yet been billed.

The federal agency also fined Chevron $423,600 in civil penalties as a result of the spill because of inadequate leak detection equipment. The federal order on the incident said the spill went undetected for 10 hours.

e-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com; jdaley@ksl.com

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