State officials close out Red Butte Creek oil spill case

Published: Friday, Dec. 21 2012 2:24 p.m. MST

Emergency crews respond to an oil spill at Liberty Park Saturday in Salt Lake City, June 2010.

Michael Brandy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — State water quality regulators are giving the all-clear to Red Butte Creek, declaring the urban waterway as clean as it is going to get in the aftermath of an oil spill more than two years ago.

Walt Baker, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, signed two documents Friday that close out the case involving the June 2010 spill of crude oil after a Chevron pipeline failed above Red Butte Gardens.

An estimated 33,600 gallons of oil seeped from a 10-inch diameter pipeline after a rupture that happened during a thunderstorm. The leak went undetected overnight, coating the creek, banks and rocks with thick, sticky oil.

Contaminants wiped out fish and aquatic insects, and the pond at Liberty Park was closed to the public because of the amount of oil that traveled downstream. Public health concerns about the oil that made its way to the Jordan River prompted its closure in certain sections while it, too, was monitored.

Baker said the documents indicate no additional cleanup is needed in light of twin assessments that concluded no risk to human health or the environment. While traces of contaminants remain, Baker said the pollutant levels are no greater than what exists at other urban waterways such as Parleys Creek and Mill Creek.

Red Butte Creek will continue to be monitored through 2015, and Chevron will continue with any cleanup of the waterway if it is deemed necessary, said John Whitehead, the division's assistant director.

“Chevron has ongoing responsibilities under the terms of this agreement,” Whitehead said.

The division had a 30-day comment period on its proposal to close out the case and hosted an open house in late November to solicit public input.

Some creekside residents remain convinced that the creek continues to bear remnants of the spill and want Chevron held accountable for its aftermath.

A March lawsuit against Chevron representing more than 60 plaintiffs asserts health effects continue and risk remains from carcinogenic compounds that occupy the creek.

Chevron was fined by the federal government and reimbursed Salt Lake City $1 million for its role in the cleanup response. Another $3 million was paid by the company in mitigation projects and reimbursements to residents, while $500,000 was paid to the state in penalties.

In all, Chevron said it has paid out more than $75 million in response to the spill and another along the same pipeline less than six months later.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com, Twitter: amyjoi16

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