Oil leak cleanup in river nearly finished, BLM officials say

Cleanup crews are wrapping up their work at the site of an oil well blowout, more than two weeks after contaminants from the leak reportedly reached the Green River.

Assistant Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Field Manager Lisa Bryant said that oil well operator SW Energy and Custom Environmental Services have nearly finished remediation work in the Salt Wash area.

“We’ve really been pleased with the efforts that the company and the contractor have made toward the situation,” Bryant said June 11.

According to a June 3 BLM update, crews were almost done with cleanup work at the well pad, upper containment ponds and upper section of Salt Wash.

SW Energy first reported that a single well about 12 miles southeast of the town of Green River began to leak on the morning of May 21.

An SW Energy contractor was able to repair a failed valve and shut the well in by the following afternoon. But BLM and state regulatory officials estimate that 80 to 100 barrels of oil leaked out of the well each hour during the interim.

BLM Utah Director Juan Palma initially reported that oil containment efforts minimized impacts to the surrounding environment. However, heavy storm runoff on May 23 overpowered containment efforts and sent a still-unknown amount of contamination into the Green River.

Utah Division of Water Quality (DWQ) staffers sampled water from the river several hours after the storm, and subsequent tests of those samples found no signs of hydrocarbons, according to the DWQ.

But conservation groups and environmentalists criticized regulators for failing to collect samples farther downstream, alleging that high river flows could have pushed pollutants toward Canyonlands National Park and beyond.

Utah Rivers Council Executive Director Zach Frankel said regulators had no way of knowing how much pollution actually reached the river.

“It’s very frustrating that drinking water for millions of people, along with critical habitat for endangered fish, was polluted when it could have been easily prevented,” Frankel said.

The National Park Service posted an advisory asking Canyonlands National Park visitors to report any signs of pollution along the river. But it did not receive any responses, the park service said in a June 3 statement.

ByBy Rudy Herndon

Staff Writer