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Green River Leak Prompts Call for Prevention

U.S. Bureau of Land Management


Credit U.S. Bureau of Land Management
Boom is set out on the water's surface to grab petroleum that spewed into Salt Wash after a well casing failed last week.

A cleanup is still underway nearly a week after authorities learned that an oil well was spewing contaminated water near the Green River. Over the weekend, the petroleum reached the river, and now some observers want to focus on preventing future accidents.

Beth Ransel, who oversees the Moab office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, points out that emergency crews plugged the high-powered leak from an old oil well Thursday. But she explains they were only partly successful in containing the damage.

“There was heavy rains on Friday night,” Ransel says, “and on Saturday it was discovered that they had overtaken those preventative measures and that some of those residues of oil that had been within the wash area had mobilized by that storm water and then carried to the Green River.”

She says the contaminated water traveled down the 3-mile Salt Wash and into the Green River, but no one knows how much. She’s pleased with the efforts of the state and federal agencies, the company that owns the well and its cleanup contractors.

Credit U.S. Bureau of Land Management
red dot on this map shows the location of the well that failed last weekend and spilled a water-petroleum mix. Despite containment ponds and absorbent boom, the contaminated water reached the Green River 3 miles away over the weekend.

  But Steve Bloch of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance says this latest spill should be raising red flags.

“We think this should be a cautionary tale for the BLM and for other land management agencies like the School Trust Land Administration,” he says.

Bloch describes last week’s leak as the kind of accident that could have been predicted, since many of the wells in Utah are getting old.

“We need to be doing all that we can to prevent them from happening and a big way to do is going to be to not allow drilling in sensitive landscapes like this.”

Bloch would also like to see the land agencies check other wells that might be in danger of failing that are located in popular recreation areas or environmentally important places.

BLM officials say the agency was up-to-date on the inspections at the leaky well, which is south of Green River City and near the put in for rafters and canoe paddlers headed into Labyrinth Canyon.

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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