Last time oil leaked from a Chevron pipeline near Red Butte Gardens, a lot of private property was coated with icky sludge, the smell made some people sick, a few residents had to escape to hotels for awhile and officials had to scramble to make sure much of the stuff didn't make its way to the Jordan River and, eventually, the Great Salt Lake.
Unfortunately, that was only last June, and people still are cleaning the mess. That's what makes Wednesday's second leak, 500 feet upstream from the first one, so exasperating. Subsequent investigations and inspections were supposed to fix problems in the area. The pipeline originates in the oil fields of northwestern Colorado and covers hundreds of miles. There is no excuse for it to develop two leaks within months of each other in the same populated area of Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker was outraged after the latest leak. He wants the pipeline shut down indefinitely. We understand his anger and feel he is justified in demanding the pipeline close. City residents ought to have a reasonable expectation that a potentially hazardous pipe in their midst is safe and well-maintained.
It is unrealistic, however, to expect such an expensive delivery system to remain closed for long. But the city's indignation ought to spur the company to quickly and thoroughly examine and rehabilitate the pipe as it crosses through Salt Lake City in an effort to regain the trust of both elected officials and the city's residents.
The latest leak did not appear to cause much damage. Salt Lake fire crews contained it about 90 minutes after a Chevron employee reported the leak late Wednesday night. A faulty shutoff valve appears to have been responsible, and about 100 barrels of oil escaped. As of Thursday, independent consultants on the scene from the spill last June said they had detected low levels of vapor in the area. Federal investigators also had arrived at the scene. The city has again contacted nearby residents and set up a phone line to receive complaints.
Last summer, Chevron officials received praise from some residents for a quick response to the problem, even though 800 barrels, or 33,000 gallons, of oil escaped. But the issue isn't necessarily the quickness of the response, although that is important. The issue is pipeline safety. A complete cleanup from last June may take years. Before reopening the pipe, Chevron has the burden of demonstrating to everyone that its safety precautions can be trusted.