Salt Lake City – The law firm of Durham Jones & Pinegar filed a complaint today against Chevron Pipe Line Company in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City. The complaint, filed on behalf of 66 plaintiffs, alleges damages arising from two separate uncontrolled releases of crude oil in the Red Butte Creek in Salt Lake City, Utah. Attorneys for plaintiffs say this is one of the most significant environmental disasters in the history of the Salt Lake Valley.
The first release occurred on June 11 and 12, 2010, allegedly as a result of the pipeline being too close to an electric transition station and an D|J|P underground metal structure. The complaint alleges that the release resulted in the uncontrolled discharge of over 800 barrels (33,600 gallons) of crude oil into Red Butte Creek, running from the vicinity of Research Park at the University of Utah downstream through Miller Park (a nature preserve in the Harvard-Yale area), to Liberty Park, and continuing to the Jordan River. Property owners and neighborhoods all along Red Butte Creek were affected.
The second release occurred on December 1 and 2, 2010, allegedly as a result of damage to the pipeline from improper testing by Chevron. The complaint alleges that the second release resulted in the controlled discharge of more than 500 barrels (21,000 gallons) of crude oil from the pipeline, some of which found its way into Red Butte Creek.
“It was a devastating experience for the plaintiffs to have tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil running through their backyard,” said Paul Durham, of Durham Jones & Pinegar, attorneys for the plaintiffs.
Although we submitted claims to Chevron on behalf of each plaintiff as required by the Oil Pollution Act, Chevron has chosen not to resolve those claims, and so it becomes necessary to file an action in U.S. District Court to obtain relief,” he said.
In 2010 and 2011, Chevron engaged in cleanup operations in cooperation with federal officials and Salt Lake City representatives. The cleanup took more than a year to complete. During the cleanup process, warning signs were posted up and down the creek regarding the dangerous condition of the creek and surrounding habitat as a result of the spill. Miller Park, with its popular hiking trails and pristine setting, and other areas along the creek such as Liberty Pond, were made inaccessible to the adjacent property owners and the public for more than a year during the cleanup process. Some plaintiffs and members of the public still have serious concerns about exposure to the creek.
Plaintiffs allege that residual problems from the spill continue to exist despite Chevron’s cleanup efforts. The crude oil spilled into Red Butte Creek contained a number of hazardous substances including benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, hydrogen sulfide, gasoline and other substances toxic to humans and animal life. Bret Randall, an environmental attorney with Durham Jones & Pinegar stated, “There is residual crude oil contamination in and near the creek which includes numerous carcinogenic compounds. These dangerous compounds are in concentrations above a level of concern for human and ecological receptors, according to data we have gathered.”
The complaint includes 38 plaintiffs who own property adjacent to and under Red Butte Creek and 28 additional plaintiffs whose property is located so close to the creek that they suffered negative effects from the nuisance of the oil spill. It alleges that there were numerous violations of state and federal law relative to the Chevron pipeline going back about a decade. Plaintiffs imply that if Chevron had cured these violations, the oil spill could have been avoided or at least greatly minimized.
For example, the complaint alleges that the pipeline did not have appropriate leak detection capability or automatic shutoffs as required by federal law. The plaintiffs allege that it took over 10 hours to discover the location of the rupture in the pipeline. The complaint alleges that Chevron also did not have shutoff valves at appropriate intervals, which resulted in thousands of additional gallons of crude oil being drained into
Red Butte Creek even after the shutoff valve was closed many miles above the spill site. As a result of the two spills, Chevron was again cited for numerous violations of state and federal law and received substantial fines. The oil spills are aggravated by the pipeline extending through high population areas designated under federal law as “High Consequence Areas”.
The plaintiffs claim damages resulting from oil spill, including damage to the creek and creek bed (dead or removed vegetation, eroded creek banks, and toxicity to flora and fauna). They claim damage to the value of their property, including stigma damages. They also claim loss of use of their property, Red Butte Creek and its surrounding native habitat. Many plaintiffs also suffered ill effects of the fumes from the oil spill over an extended period of time including headaches, nausea, anxiety, aggravation, and outrage.
Peter Hayes, one of the plaintiffs stated: “Chevron promised all of us to restore Red Butte Creek to its original condition. But that’s a promise Chevron simply cannot keep without excavating the entire creek bed. Instead, Chevron has implemented a ‘hide the ball’ sampling strategy that has created the misperception that all of its crude oil is gone. But it’s still there, and it’s not hard to find. I see it in the creek that runs through my yard when I look for it.”
Patricia Callahan, another plaintiff, said: “For the first 20 years after I moved here, I thought my house was in a little corner of Eden. This Chevron oil spill has largely destroyed that. I have been exposed to noxious fumes and chemicals that make me ill and prevent enjoyment of the beauty here.
“It has also been frustrating and infuriating to hear Chevron continue to claim that it has completely cleaned up its oil spill in our backyards. Just like the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, you can dig down a few inches on the bank of Red Butte Creek behind our houses, and still find oil. I hope this lawsuit will reveal the truth.”