SALT LAKE CITY — As Chevron heads into its sixth week of cleanup following an oil spill of 33,000 gallons, crews will continue to maintain a 24-hour presence at the Liberty Park pond amid Pioneer Day revelers.
Chevron spokesman Mickey Driver said the pond remains completely fenced off and will be off-limits to park visitors, but no threats exist — either from air pollutants or stray fireworks that may land in the water.
"It's not the kind of oil that would burn," Driver said. "It's not volatile."
Very little, if any, oil remains in the pond, he said, and absorbent booms are in place to catch any residue that may be washed down by Red Butte Creek as remediation efforts continue.
A vacuum truck nearby also can be utilized to catch any of the sheen that may make its way to the pond.
Crews are in Red Butte Creek, overturning rocks and tackling tree root systems to wipe away any of the oil that may remain in the aftermath of the spill, first detected June 12 near Red Butte Gardens.
"They are using absorbent pads that are kind of like a big diaper to cleanup any oil we find," Driver said.
The creek flow has been diminished to facilitate the cleanup, and absorbent booms will remain at the pond and at Jordan River to catch any oil that may be dislodged.
"We don't want to be doing any remediation work and have that get oil into the creek," Driver said.
Investigators believe a June 11 windstorm knocked a tree into a power line, sending an electrical arc down a chain-link fence post into the ground and into the Chevron pipeline, blowing a hole in it the size of a quarter.
The oil seeped into the creek and was conveyed to the pond at Liberty Park. Some of it made its way to the Jordan River, which remains closed to public access from 1300 South to 500 North because of the presence of booms. The Bonneville Shoreline Trail between the University of Utah Williams building north to the Red Butte Garden Amphitheater also remains closed.
Driver said remediation began this week at the actual spill site, with crews using backhoes and other heavy equipment to remove the oil-contaminated soil. It will be replaced with new mounds of dirt that will then be graded to return it to its pre-spill state.
"The purpose is to get the dirt out of there and remove any of the contamination," he said.
In the initial aftermath of the spill, Chevron had 24-hour response plans. After two weeks, the company moved to a 48-hour cleanup plan. That has now shifted to a 30-day response effort, which will be revamped by Aug. 1, Driver said.
Chevron also has set up a website, www.redbuttecanyonspill.com, which includes photos, videos and media updates.
A number of people were displaced by the spill, and several couples who had weddings planned at a nearby park had the events shifted to new locations. Driver said Chevron has received 67 claims so far, the majority of them for hotel stays. Some have been for medical issues, and none have been for property damage, Driver said. About a third of those claims have been settled, while the rest hinge on additional paperwork, he said.
Among those who have not yet returned to their homes are Alyssa Kay, Roi Maufas and their son, Darius Maufas. The family lives only 50 yards or so from the pond at Liberty Park, and Darius, a 4-year-old who suffers from asthma, had a severe reaction to fumes emitted from oil that accumulated in the pond in the hours immediately following the spill.
On Thursday, Kay said in spite of some previous communication issues with Chevron, company officials said they're committed to helping the family out until cleanup at Liberty is completed.
"We want to get home as soon as possible," Kay said, "but for now, Chevron is being very responsive. We're hearing that the cleanup at Liberty Park could continue through October, but the company has also said that it could go longer."
Salt Lake City has been reimbursed $125,000 so far for its resources devoted to the spill, and Salt Lake County has billed Chevron for a little more than $53,000.
The pipeline breach and ensuing spill remain under investigation by the federal Office of Pipeline Safety.