Settlement in Pipeline Oil Spill

Tuesday, September 26, 2017 @ 01:09 PM gHale

Members of Wild Fire Services from Yakima, WA use absorbent material to clean up oil from Red Butte Creek near Foothill Blvd. in Salt Lake City back when the spill occurred in 2010.

It has been seven years since an electrical arc shot into a crude oil pipeline and left a hole during a summer thunderstorm near Salt Lake City.

A lawsuit emanated as a result of the blazes on who was responsible for the incident, Rocky Mountain Power or Chevron Pipeline Co. The aftermath left a $30 million bill for cleanup costs stemming from the crude oil spill into Red Butte Creek, Liberty Park Pond and which ultimately reached the Jordan River.

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A settlement ended up reached Friday before a jury was able to deliver a verdict in a federal civil trial.

“This had been going on for seven years. It was in everybody’s best interest to settle this,” said Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Spencer Hall, adding the terms of the settlement were not immediately available.

Under the provisions of the Oil Pollution Act, Chevron Pipe Line Co. said Rocky Mountain Power contributed to the cause of the spill of 33,600 gallons of crude oil in 2010 and sought compensation for its costs.

Rocky Mountain Power denied any responsibility for the spill whatsoever.

Documents show its electrical transition station at the spill site above Red Butte Garden is in the company’s right of way for its 10-inch pipeline. That pipeline is 182 miles long, originating in Rangely, Colorado, and ending at Chevron’s Salt Lake refinery.

Chevron’s crude oil pipeline is in two segments, with the 1952-era No. 2 section traversing the Wasatch Mountains and multiple “high-consequence areas” that feature key watersheds for Salt Lake’s drinking water supply, as well as populated and ecologically sensitive regions.

Attorneys for PacifiCorp — the parent of Rocky Mountain Power — denied the utility company knew about the pipeline when it constructed its 46,000-volt power station in Chevron’s right of way in 1979 into 1980.

The utility company said no one may ever know what caused the arc that actually came in three bursts over 11 seconds and shot electricity into the pipeline, leaving the hole.

Chevron said it was the electricity “owned” by Rocky Mountain Power that ultimately arced — through negligence at the station — and caused the pipeline to leak.

A federal investigation notes the resulting release of oil went undetected by Chevron authorities for 10 hours.

The 800 barrels of crude oil wiped out all aquatic life in a 7-mile stretch of Red Butte Creek, contaminated the pond at Liberty Park and made its way to the Jordan River.

An investigative report by the federal Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said an electrical “surge” from a fault current jumped from the metal fence post onto the pipeline.

In the agency’s investigation, the report noted the company did not follow procedures to keep its pipeline in a “high-consequence area” safe. It noted despite required right-of-way inspections, the company also failed to identify the electrical transition station’s encroachment for 23 years.

The federal report also noted the fence post was placed within 3 inches of the pipeline. Federal regulations require 12 inches of clearance. Authorities said the station had been a threat since it was built and the threat was foreseeable.

Chevron was fined by both the state and the federal government for the release, and was trying to recoup its costs at trial.

In the seven years since the spill, Red Butte Creek has recovered and Chevron has paid millions to mitigate its impacts to people and the environment.

Salt Lake City convened its own pipeline risk assessment analysis and worked with the company to prevent potentially disastrous effects to the watershed, particularly streams and creeks that provide drinking water, if a pipeline release happens again.

Laura Briefer, head of the city’s public utilities division, said protective measures were engineered in mountainous areas where the pipeline runs and could possibly impact Mountain Dell and Little Dell reservoirs, which collect water for the city’s drinking water supplies.

In the aftermath of the spill, the electrical transmission station has since been moved.

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