Courtesy Bureau of Land Management
Bureau of Land Management officials mop up oil that leaked from an aging rig in Utah and may have leached into the Green River.

Utah Oil Spill Has Environmentalists Fearing for Colorado River


Officials are mopping up a spill that sent an undetermined amount of oil into the Green River—and potentially into the Colorado River, environmental groups said.

On May 21 between 100,000 and 125,000 gallons of oil leaked from a 45-year-old well 50 miles north of Moab, Utah, near the Green River, the Colorado River’s main tributary. The well was capped, but two days later the area was flooded in a rainstorm and the oil overflowed its containment ponds, four environmental groups said in a statement on May 29.

As many as 3,000 to 4,000 gallons per hour of a mixture of oil and treated water may have leaked after a valve failed on an older rig owned by the S.W. Energy Corp., the Moab Sun News reported.

The Bureau of Land Management said it had contained the leak by May 22, assisted by S.W. Energy, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the newspaper said. Subsequent rains on Friday May 23 “overwhelmed the prevention measures, causing oil and some surface contaminants to move downstream in the wash and enter the Green River,” the Moab Sun News said. The exact amount of oil and surface contaminants leaching into the Green River was not known, Beth Ransel, Moab field manager for the Bureau of Land Management, told the newspaper.

The environmental groups said that even that wasn’t an accurate assessment, because any oil would have washed downstream quickly and thus would have already moved on from the place where BLM agents tested the water for oil content. With spring runoff speeding up the river and augmenting the water volume, the environmental groups said, testing should have been done farther downstream, especially since federal and state officials didn’t arrive until 12 to 18 hours later.

“No known sampling of downstream water supplies has been performed, raising criticism from residents across the region,” said the Utah Rivers Council, the Sierra Club, the Waterkeeper Alliance and the Living Rivers Colorado River Keeper in a joint statement.

EPA and other officials said the spill is under control and contained in the wash, although it will take another week to finish cleaning it up.


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