SALT LAKE CITY — Chevron officials have replaced a 22-foot section of the pipeline that fractured last weekend sending an estimated 33,000 gallons of crude oil into Red Butte Creek.
When the integrity of the repairs will satisfy federal regulators and inspectors — and the pipeline is once again ferrying oil to the company's Beck Street refinery — remains a question.
"We can't put it in operation until the U.S. Department of Transportation signs off on what has been done and there are inspections," said Chevron spokesman Dan Johnson.
As he spoke Wednesday at the site of the pipeline break adjacent to Red Butte Gardens, backhoes were churning up oil-coated dirt not far from a trio of high-voltage power lines carrying 46,000 volts of electricity.
The power lines, the damaged Chevron pipeline and an idle pipeline also owned by Chevron dominate the same utility corridor on Salt Lake's east bench, leading to questions about a coexistence that may have prompted the spill.
Johnson reiterated the company's strong investigative theory that an electrical arc caused by winds knocking into a tree and hitting a metal fence post sent a burst of electricity into the pipe, leaving a hole the size of a quarter.
The oil then leaked in a northwesterly flow to Red Butte Creek, which carried it down to the pond at Liberty Park, with some making its way to the Jordan River.
Although Davis County officials and state wildlife officers have reported seeing a "sheen" of oil in the bays and wetlands of the Great Salt Lake, Johnson was adamant none of the spill crept past 600 North in Salt Lake County.
"There has been a lot of community and industrial activity in the Jordan River, and a lot of sensitivity around what's been put in there over the years," Johnson said. "I don't know that anyone knows with any certainty," that the oil detected is Chevron's, Johnson said.
The EPA, too, said Wednesday that an on-site inspection of the Great Salt Lake did not reveal any "sheen" of oil from Chevron's pipeline break, but it is continuing to monitor wetlands and bays as a precaution.
Additionally, the agency said it does not have concerns that groundwater near the Red Butte Creek spill has been significantly affected because there are no domestic wells in the area.
A statement by the agency's spokesman Richard Mylott said the EPA is in the process of setting up a "unified command" to carry out the continued containment and cleanup of the oil, a plan that divides the impacted areas into 18 sections.
Mylott said no chemicals are being used at this time in cleanup efforts, and wildlife is only being treated with detergents.
"The cleanup effort right now is strictly physical containment and recovery," he said.
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, has asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for assurances the agency is carefully tracking Chevron's cleanup efforts.
In a letter sent Wednesday, Matheson posed questions that include a request for an elaboration on the standards used to determine when the cleanup is complete, the frequency of water monitoring and who has responsibility for signing off on the cleanup.
Matheson also wrote a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, also voicing concerns being raised about the close co-location of the pipeline and electrical lines.
He stressed in the letter that several questions need answers before a "restart plan" is approved and the Chevron pipeline once again is operational.
Among them are the company's inspection record with the pipeline, the adequacy of its monitoring system and if the company adhered to safety regulations.