Hundreds of Miles from the Gulf, an Oil Pipeline Spill in Utah

Avocets in the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Brigham City, Utah. The refuge is 74,000 acres of marsh, open water, uplands, and alkali flats. Part of the Great Salt Lake, it welcomes hundreds of species of waterfowl, shorebirds, and raptors. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As if the Gulf oil spill disaster weren't enough, this past Friday night an underground pipeline in Utah broke, spilling about 21,000 gallons of crude oil into a creek that feeds into the Jordan River, which in turn pours into the Great Salt Lake, a particularly important habitat for birds. The pipeline, owned by Chevron, carries oil from fields in western Colorado and eastern Utah to a refinery in Salt Lake City, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The event might have been triggered by a tree limb that fell onto a power line, which could have subsequently sent an electric arc boring through the pipe via a metal fence staked inches from it. "We think of this as a one-in-a-million event,” Mark Sullivan, manager of Chevron's oil refinery, told the Associated Press.
The pipe was shut off on Saturday morning, according to another AP account, although residual oil continued to leak until Sunday. The spill's aftermath is already visible in the form of hundreds of oiled birds—mostly Canada Geese—and suffocated trout, reports the AP. No oil has yet reached Great Salt Lake, an important stopover site for migratory birds and part of several Important Bird Areas. Emergency workers used booms and absorbent material to contain the spill, according to NPR. Chevron accepted responsibility and will pay for cleanup.

*The photo caption was updated at 7:21 on 6/16/2010.

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