In our opinion: Red Butte cleanup shows the consequences of neglecting oil pipelines
Kristin Murphy, Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Two years is a long time for a cleanup effort. The lesson from two oil spills near Red Butte Creek in 2010 is that safety and monitoring must be top priorities for pipeline owners, especially when human beings live nearby.
People in the United States speak wistfully about the need to increase the output of alternative energy supplies from wind, solar and other generating sources. Primarily, however, oil remains king where personal transportation is concerned. Society relies on it. The pipeline in question, owned by Chevron, carries crude from oil fields in northwestern Colorado. But this reliance on oil can turn messy and dangerous if large quantities are leaked into the environment.
Last week, the state of Utah issued a draft copy of a report that says Red Butte Creek and its environs appear to be clean again. The water is not completely free of oil-related compounds, but tests show levels are in trace amounts similar that what is found in other urban waterways where passing cars and runoff from nearby parking lots can work its way into the water. The state is accepting public comment on the report until Aug. 13, and official say they are open to any evidence that would contradict their findings.
Meanwhile, about 60 people have filed a lawsuit against Chevron, claiming residual effects from the spills continue to cause health problems.
We don't know the answer to that, but we do know that the smell and damaging effects of the spills affected the quality of life near the spill and as far away as the Jordan River in the days after it occurred. We also know that it took a long time to clean the area.
Oil spills were a regular part of the news in 2010. The initial Red Butte spill happened in June. That was the same time news of an uncontrollable oil leak off the Gulf coast dominated telecasts daily. It also was roughly the time that 800,000 gallons of oil leaked near the town of Marshal, Mich., from a pipe owned by Enbridge Inc. The Red Butte leak spilled 33,600 gallons. Its cause might be described as a fluke. Lightning toppled a tree, which hit a power line. An electrical arc resulted, traveling down a metal fence post and onto the pipe, which was buried 3 feet underground.
Despite the meaning of the word, flukes do happen. However, Chevron's inability to discover the leak for 10 hours allowed considerable damage to occur.
Then a second leak occurred in December, although its effects were much less than the first leak.
We're glad the state feels Red Butte Creek is now back to normal. We hope that becomes the final verdict after all the evidence is thoroughly examined.
We also hope Chevron and all other oil producers have learned lessons about monitoring pipelines that run through populated areas. The consequences of doing otherwise can be enormous.
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