BLM releases final report on national monument oil spill

The photo was taken during the initial assessment team visit, March 26, 2014 | Photo courtesy of the BLM

KANAB – The Bureau of Land Management released the final report on an oil spill in Little Valley Wash in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Working in coordination with the Dixie National Forest, which manages the majority of these lands, and with representatives from the current field operator – Citation Oil & Gas Corporation – the BLM conducted field inspections with petroleum engineering technicians, natural resource specialists, geologists, botanists, biologists, and other experts in resource management to determine the extent and impacts of the spill.

The report found no immediate threats to wildlife, vegetation and water and recommended increased monitoring and additional staff training to protect this location within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

On March 23, hikers in the Upper Valley of the monument noticed oil on the ground along with smudges on rocks and plants near the Little Valley Wash.

The Bureau of Land Management was informed of the oil and assembled a team consisting of a monument assistant manager, a petroleum engineering technician, a geologist and representatives from Citation to perform an initial assessment in order to determine the next steps.

Citation is the lease holder for oil production in the area and operates five active production wells and two injection wells on the monument.

An exposed pipe was also looked at that carries 17 barrels of crude oil and 400 barrels of saline production water each day.

Citation had recently patched a pin-sized hole and left the pipe visible to monitor the repairs. The pin-sized oil was believed to have leaked oil and saline production water, but the amount was unknown at the time.

According to the final report, at least three separate events – one recent leak and two decades-old spills – deposited substantial oil residues in the wash.

The two older spills are estimated to have left a deposit of some 550 barrels of oil. The most recent leak, a small pipeline spill, was probably less than 10 barrels of a mixture of mostly saline water with some oil.

The report concluded that the oily deposits, which are 54 stream-miles from the Escalante River, appear to be relatively stable and, if undisturbed, pose no immediate threat to wildlife, vegetation and water in the wash.

An analysis of fresh water seeping over the older deposits in Little Valley Wash indicates that state of Utah surface water quality standards are met and the water poses no threat to wildlife.

We will continue to monitor natural resource conditions in Little Valley Wash,” Cynthia Staszak, acting monument manager, said, “paying particular attention to the quality of water flowing from seeps and the health of the native vegetation to determine if there is any long-term damage to natural resources.”

A leak did not have to be reported until 10 barrels of crude oil or more had been spilled. Regulations have been changed since this leak occurred, and any amount of oil spilled in the national monument must now be reported within 24 hours.

We recognize the age of the field and the potential for future infrastructure failures,” Juan Palma, BLM Utah state director, said. “We will be working with Citation to conduct a thorough assessment of the Upper Valley oil field infrastructure, including pipelines and monitoring equipment that could fail and lead to another spill event.”

The BLM will also be asking Citation to prepare and implement a new surface use plan for the field.

The new plan will be developed in consultation with the Dixie National Forest and BLM.  The BLM and Citation will continue monitoring conditions in the Little Valley Wash, particularly water quality, native vegetation health and the stability of the oil deposits, and will be developing a contingency plan should the oil become remobilized or threaten Monument resources.

Cleaning up the Little Valley Wash spills without causing more extensive damage to resources in the narrow, boulder-choked wash presents a challenge.

At present, the report concluded that the best option with the least impact to resources is to leave the deposits undisturbed and to rely on natural biodegradation.

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