Environmental protection agencies warn public of Green River oil spill

By Ali Monsen

Published 05/29 2014 06:46PM

Updated 05/29 2014 06:50PM

GRAND COUNTY, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) – Crews are working to clean up an oil spill, Thursday, after it rushed into the Green River.

Between 80 and 100 barrels per hour—that is how fast an oil/water mixture rushed from a damaged SW Energy well.  Parts of the mixture rolled down into the Green River for 30 hours straight before anyone responded.  If you do the math, those numbers come out to at least 2,400 barrels of spilled oil.

According to the Bureau of Land Management, nobody knows exactly how much of that oil went into the Green River, but environmental protection agencies say they do have an idea. 

A concerned hiker noticed an oily sheen on the Green River Saturday morning.  He took the picture about 20 miles downstream from where the oil well blowout entered the water. 

"That clearly indicates that there was a lot of oil, because it had 30 miles to disperse, and it still didn’t do so.  We could be talking about tens of thousands of gallons of oil,” explained Zach Frankel, Executive Director of the Utah River Council. 

Frankel says that this spill is dangerous and that nobody should be taking it lightly.

"The Green River provides water for millions of people downstream in the cities of Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, and Las Angeles, among other communities," said Frankel.

The Bureau of Land Management learned of the original leak Wednesday.  They built back-up berms to contain the spill and issued a press release saying it was taken care of the very next day. By Saturday, the BLM's structures had already given out. 

"They did have some very significant storms down there on Friday night into the weekend.  We had measures in place…We had those underflow structures, absorbent models—all of those were in place—but that storm event was very significant,” said Megan Crandall, spokesperson for the BLM.

Frankel says that is no excuse.

"They didn't build the containment facilities large enough to withstand a storm event.  They didn't even think about what would happen when it rained," he explained.

Another concern is that no one yet knows how contaminated the river really is.  The BLM sampled only the area where the oil entered.

"The Green River is flowing right now at 14,000 C.F.S.  If you threw a stick in the river, it would blast downstream.  Taking water samples at the place where that stick was first thrown, 18 hours later—We're going to reveal almost nothing," explained Frankel.

"We are committed to responsible development.  Part of that is going to be assessing the damage moving forward, and we may end up going down the river to take some of the samples," responded Crandall.

BLM officials could not say when they plan to go downstream and take the samples, but they said they will let ABC 4 Utah know if and when they do.  

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