Personal Injury

DOT fines Chevron $423,600 for toxic pipeline leak near Salt Lake City

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) proposed on Monday a $423,600 penalty against Chevron Pipe Line Company for contaminating the land and water near the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City with toxic crude oil.

A federal investigation of Chevron’s June 2010 pipeline failure found that 800 barrels / 33,600 gallons of crude oil were released into the area around Red Butte Creek.

The Chevron incident occurred while the world’s attention was fixated on BP’s epic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Although the Chevron spill paled in comparison to the BP disaster – widely regarded as one the world’s worst environmental and economic catastrophes – it marks yet more massive destruction unleashed on American soil by irresponsible corporations.

PHMSA’s investigation found that Chevron failed to institute and follow required procedures to patrol its pipeline rights-of-way, control corrosion on its system, and protect the line from stray electrical currents. The investigation also indicates that Chevron lacks the means to detect leaks along its pipeline system – a scenario that means millions of square miles are at risk of being contaminated by big oil bloopers.

Sadly, the pipeline involved in the Chevron spill leaked crude oil for more than ten hours before Chevron received notification of the failure from the local fire department.

The Transportation Department issued some anemic responses to the oil spill, considering the fact that more and more American land is being steeped in toxic sludge:

“The Department’s top priority is safety, and we remain committed to ensuring America’s pipelines are capable of safely delivering vital energy products to U.S. households and businesses,” Secretary Ray LaHood said.

PHMSA Administrator Cynthia L. Quarterman added,“PHMSA’s pipeline safety inspectors and its state partners are committed to ensuring the safety of America’s pipeline transportation system, and will continue to carefully monitor the activities of Chevron Pipe Line Company.” Quarterman said that her agency will pursue enforcement action against corporations like Chevron that do not adhere to pipeline safety regulations.

In addition to today’s Notice of Proposed Violation (NOPV) to Chevron, PHMSA issued a proposed Compliance Order that would require the company to improve its rights-of-way inspections, take measures to protect its system against damage from lightning or stray electrical currents, and improve its leak detection capabilities.

Only when oil companies are made to pay civil penalties that actually matter to them will they begin to operate with responsibility and respect for the land and people who live there. The fine issued against Chevron for the Salt Lake City spill amounts to a mere $12.60 per gallon —  not exactly a deterrent against future spills for one of the world’s “supermajor” oil companies.