In our opinion: Watch pipeline carefully

Published: Thursday, Feb. 3 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Workers from Salt Lake City Fire Department and Chevron work to clean up an oil spill at the Red Butte Gardens next to the University of Utah last month.

Tom Smart, Chopper 5, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

Chevron officials should be on notice — the entire community will be watching carefully and skeptically as they begin pumping oil again through a pipeline that runs near Red Butte Creek.

The fact that the company was about to reopen the pipe without first consulting Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker and County Mayor Peter Corroon is not a good sign. Chevron had decided to start the pipeline after receiving approval from federal regulators, but of course federal regulators are not the ones who live downstream from two recent leaks. The company quickly met with the mayors and satisfied their concerns about monitoring the 50-year-old pipe before reopening it Tuesday. It must be clear to all concerned, however, that there can be no more mishaps.

The first leak occurred late last spring, sending 33,000 gallons of oil — a smelly, gooey mess — into Red Butte Creek and nearby homes. The second leak occurred in early December. It wasn't as bad, but that hardly calmed the nerves of nearby residents, who can't be blamed for being skeptical of any of Chevron's assurances.

Alyssa Kay and Roy Maufas are two such people. As they explained to KSL, they have had to leave the area because their son needed medical attention for serious stomach pains and Alyssa suffered from bad headaches. They were not the only ones with health consequences. These are the effects of spills that can't be easily mitigated.

The pipe is part of a line that carries crude from oil fields in northwestern Colorado. One other leak occurred along the line in 2002 in a remote section of Duchesne County. The company had to pay a $15,000 fine because it failed to respond to that one for 30 days.

Chevron has promised 24-hour monitoring of the pipe for the first few days and stepped-up monitoring along nearby creeks. Cameras are in place to watch the pipe, being monitored by workers in Houston. The company also has agreed to look seriously at the possibility of relocating the pipe.

That last consideration may be the most important. It isn't feasible to expect a company to continue carefully watching a pipeline forever. After two spills, Chevron has a trust problem with residents in the area.

Domestic oil production is vital to the nation's security, and governments should do all within reason to promote such efforts. Pipelines are an important part of that production and distribution process. But, of course, human considerations are of greater importance. In this case, there may be no way to restore the lost trust short of moving the pipe.

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