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Escalante Oil Spill Prompts New Reporting Rule

U.S. Bureau of Land Management

Credit U.S. Bureau of Land Management
A detail of the oil deposit on the wash floor. The consistency of the old oil is like asphalt, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.


Managers of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are updating their rules for an oil-well operator. The policy change comes after recent reports of two spills at an oil field near the remote Little Valley Wash.

Larry Crutchfield is the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s spokesman at the monument. Hikers reported patches of oil along more than a mile of the wash last month. Crutchfield says his agency and Citation Oil and Gas Corp. both have teams studying the oil.

“We believe there are two separate oil spills, one that dates back decades,” says Crutchfield. “What makes us believe that it’s older is that several Escalante, Utah residents have talked with us and stated that they worked for the company that did the remediation at that time and that was somewhere in the 70’s. The other is fairly recent. It may have happened this winter or last winter.”

Crutchfield says there’s no evidence Citation has done anything wrong. The first spill happened before the Oil Pollution Act or the Clean Water Act and probably a decade before Citation took on the lease. A second spill appears to have come from a pin-hole-sized leak in a well pipe that is now repaired.  But Citation has told the BLM the leak was less than 420 gallons, and that is the trigger level for reporting a leak. Crutchfield says BLM officials updated the spill reporting policy last week.

“Now we’re a national monument,” he says, “we’ve adjusted that to any spill of any quantity, they need to report within 24 hours.”

The BLM and Citation have separate environmental teams searching for any other spills. They’re also looking at soil, plants, wildlife and the oil to piece together a picture about the two known spills. Crutchfield says it will take a few weeks to get those answers, but it appears the environment and wildlife are not in immediate danger.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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