[UPDATE: The Salt Lake City Fire Department now estimates that up 33,000 gallons of oil (about 785 barrels) were released by the leak.]
A Chevron underground pipeline burst early on June 12th, gushing crude oil into a nearby stream for several hours. The spill, in the well-to-do neighborhood surrounding Salt Lake’s largest park, was gushing 50 gallons of crude per minute when responders arrived in the morning.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that residents 3 miles away smelled oil at 4am, the spill was officially reported at 6:45am, and the pipe was successfully shut-off by 8am. By then the oil had reached Liberty Pond (shown above) and was reported flowing into the Jordan River.
“In Liberty Pond the geese were brown – they’re normally white – I’ve probably known those geese for years, because I’ve gone to that park all the time,” said Ashley Anderson, a local climate activist.
Anderson gave me this account of the ground-zero-like scene at Liberty park during the press conference. “There were 25 firetrucks and hazmat suits everywhere. It smelled like the inside of a garage with a diesel truck running. The air was pretty bad.”
Chevron officials told the media what had happened and promised to clean it up. “One resident had gathered up a bucket of rocks from the creek that were coated in oil. He brought them with him to the press conference and got in Chevron’s face, saying ‘you’re going to pay for all this.’ The Chevron spokesperson said ‘of course we are’.”
When I asked him if he believed Chevron, he wasn’t optimistic. “Words are cheap, and corporations don’t understand real costs, or they do and they’re good at pretending like they don’t.” Anderson went on to explain that oil companies tend to be given free passes in Utah, which may soon be home to the United States first tar sands operation.
On Tuesday of this week, the Utah governor Gary Herbert released an energy plan where he asked: “Why are we drilling in the middle of the ocean where there is extreme environmental risk when we could be meeting the demand for domestic production from on‐shore development in areas with minimal environmental risk such as Utah?”
For more photos, visit the KSL oil spill slideshow.