Oil and gas pipelines, typically, don't draw much attention until something goes wrong. For example, Salt Lake residents were stunned in 2010 when two separate pipeline breaks released petroleum into Red Butte Creek near the valley's treasured Red Butte Gardens.
More recently, hikers discovered an oil slick in a canyon that drains into the Escalante River within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The source of the leak has been traced back to a pipeline owned by a Texas-based oil and gas company.
Studying those and other pipeline incidents is particularly important as the Tesoro Corporation, one of the country's largest oil refiners, prepares to build a pipeline through Summit County.
Tesoro is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement on a pipeline that would carry crude oil from the oil fields in the Uinta Basin to refineries in North Salt Lake. The oil is currently being transported in trucks making about 100 trips per day. The double-trailer tankers travel through Summit County on U.S. 40 and Interstate 80 and with oil production on track to increase, Tesoro says piping the oil will help take those trucks off local highways.
Three potential routes have been proposed, all of which go through Summit County. But the one singled out as "preferred" is raising concerns on the east side of Summit County where residents are scrambling to learn whether their properties will be impacted.
According to official notices of the study issued by Tesoro and the U.S. Forest Service, the new pipeline would follow an existing Chevron pipeline easement. However, the new project would require significantly larger setbacks. That came as a surprise to at least one landowner in Francis who say the project would render their property unusable for future development.
More importantly, concerns have been raised by the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District about the wisdom of installing an oil line so close to the region's most important water source. With recent oil-spill-related environmental catastrophes in mind, including a 20,000-barrel crude-oil leak from a Tesoro pipeline in North Dakota last fall, it is a reasonable concern.
In the aftermath of the oil spill in Red Butte Creek, Salt Lake City commissioned a study on pipeline safety throughout the valley. The study resulted in a comprehensive report posted online at www.slcgov.com/oilspill .
Funding for the study came from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a division of U.S. Department of Transportation agency. Additional information was also provided by The Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit established in the wake of A fatal explosion and oil spill in Washington State.
Summit County should consider consulting with those agencies now, before the pipeline is built. They may have valuable advice about what leverage, if any, citizens have in demanding that water quality and safety concerns be addressed ahead of time, instead becoming a tragic news story in the future.
For more information about the project go to: uintaexpresspipeline.com/
Public comment on the proposed pipeline is being accepted through this coming Monday. Comments can be directed to: firstname.lastname@example.org , via fax to 801-253-8118 or by mail to: Nelson Gonzalez-Sullow, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest Supervisor's Office, 857 West South Jordan Parkway, South Jordan, UT 84095-8594