Oil spills, leaks plaguing Forest Service, BLM in Grand Staircase-Escalante area

Published: Wednesday, April 2 2014 5:41 p.m. MDT

Cottonwood Canyon in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument September 14, 2003.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — Two federal agencies are now investigating the aftermath of four spills of oil or brine water involving the same company on land in or near the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument.

Joe Harris, a spokesman for the Dixie National Forest, said Wednesday that officials there are working with Citation Oil on the cleanup associated with a release that happened in November 2013. The leak from a valve impacted a pond at a well site and involves "some release" of oil, in addition to the saltwater solution, according to Harris.

The spill is 3 miles away from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on Forest Service property and is not related to what the Bureau of Land Management has described as a "decades-old" larger spill exposed by a flood last fall.

Company crews have been burning off the oil at the pond and around its edges on Forest Service service property, which Harris said is allowed to prevent the oil from spreading farther.

The investigation so far has not led to any evidence the leak spread beyond the pond into an ephemeral drainage system, he said. An independent assessment will determine the amount that spilled, Harris said. Company officials believe it is less than five barrels, he said, but the federal agency is awaiting official reports.

It is the second incident involving Citation wells and leaks on Forest Service property in the monument area that has been disclosed in as many years, Harris said.

In 2012, there was a "reportable" incident of a spill involving more than 10 barrels of brine water used in the production process. Harris said the water did contain some oil residue. The company was issued a notice of noncompliance by the Forest Service and was asked for a updated spill plan, replacement of the aging pipeline and for the spill to be cleaned up.

Harris said the company has hired a private contractor to assist in this latest remediation.

The Bureau of Land Management is working with Citation Oil on what it says is an old, large spill that was exposed due to torrential rainstorms in the Little Valley Wash area at the national monument.

"September storms undercut some of the 'asphalt' that had spread down the wash and hardened. It is a large spill, make no mistake," said BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall.

The spill looks to have occurred about 1971, predating the designation of the monument, and came from a well that also predates Citation Oil acquiring the mineral rights, Crandall said. At that time, the well was a "solid" producer, she said, but by this year was only drawing out 15 to 17 barrels per day.

The well was shut down March 24 after BLM authorities learned of the incident. An unrelated patch of a pipeline also led to the release of what Crandall said was probably 10 gallons or less of oil.

As a whole, Citation Oil has 19 producing wells on the Upper Valley Oil Field, of which five are on monument land.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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