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Little Valley Wash Oil Spill

 Last updated:  June 3, 2014

Latest Update:

June 3, 2014 - BLM News Release - BLM-Utah Releases Final Report on Little Valley Wash Oil Spill

June 3, 2014 - Final Report on Little Valley Wash Oil Spill.

The investigation into the oil spill affecting the Grand Staircase National Monument is continuing in earnest.  BLM employees and contractors, including Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument biologists and botanists, have been on foot and horseback reconnoitering all drainages below the oil field.

Several of these drainages show evidence of older oil deposits; BLM is working now to determine if and how these spills, which have been covered with soil, sand, and gravel, relate to previously documented and reported undesirable events.

Mixed oil and dirt layers have been located in Pet Hollow, Horse Spring Canyon, Canaan Wash, and Bear Hollow.  The combination of old, recent and perhaps natural seepage makes unraveling the oil deposition history of the area complex.

The investigation into the vicinity of the #27 well (nearest well to the spill initially reported by the hikers and reported to the media) confirms that the previously reported "pinhole leak" in the pipeline associated with that well probably leaked more volume than previously thought.  However, determination of the total amount is problematic because the timing, rate and duration is very approximate at best. The leak was apparently too small to affect the overall pipeline pressure--therefore the pressure-monitoring equipment which would have shut the well in in the event of a major leak did not activate.

In general, the field personnel reported that resource damage appears minimal and that the "older" oil identified is semi-solidified and relatively stable.  The "newer oil" is of some concern in that it is more likely to become mobile.  Another concern is that when it was released, the newer oil would have been accompanied by production water (salt water) that may adversely affect plants coming out of their winter dormancy.  Samples of the various types of oil deposits along with water samples of runoff in the affected drainage's have been collected and sent to labs for analysis.  Of particular interest is the runoff water analysis to determine if it contains oil residue.

A monitoring and mitigation strategy will be developed as soon as the data and information from the investigation has been compiled and analyzed.

Background: 

On Sunday, March 23, 2014, hikers in the Upper Valley region of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument reported seeing an "oiled pour-over, pooled oil and sludge on rocks" in Little Valley Wash.  The next day, Bureau of Land Management law enforcement hiked into the wash and confirmed the presence of oily residue on plants and rocks, tar balls and intermittent exposures of asphalt-like patches along a three-to-four mile stretch of the wash.

On March 26, 2014, a BLM team comprised of a Monument assistant manager, a petroleum engineering technician, and a geologist hiked to the site and met with personnel from the lease holder to perform an initial assessment in order to determine next steps.  The assembled team hiked along the impacted stretch of wash, taking photos along the way to document what they saw.  The team found remnants of an older oil spill in the wash and evidence that some amount of that oily material was carried down the wash by a previous storm event.  They also looked at an exposed underground pipe that had been patched and repaired.  According to the lease holder, the pipe had recently had a pin-sized hole repaired, the leak was stopped, and the pipeline trench was left open to monitor the repairs. The pipeline carries a mixture of crude oil and saline water from the well to the production facility.  At present, the well produces 17 barrels of oil and 400 barrels of saline water per day.

The BLMs initial on-the-ground inspection suggested that the vast majority of the spill may be as much as three decades old. A small pipeline appears to have leaked from time to time with perhaps as much as 10 barrels of oil having leaked fairly recently, and that has been repaired, stopping the leak.

The private leaseholder operates five active production wells and two injection wells on the Monument.  When notified of a possible leak, the leaseholder shut down the well.

What we are doing:

The Department of the Interior, the BLM, and the Monument are taking this matter very seriously.  A special interoffice interdisciplinary team has been assembled to address the situation. 

The BLM is currently reviewing best options for ensuring safe rehabilitation and restoration of both the recent small leak as well as the older spill.

  • A BLM-contracted environmental science firm collected soil and oil samples from the site that will be used when determining best options.
  • A BLM Resources team consisting of botanists, biologists and range management specialists is assessing the spill area to determine risks to Monument Resources.
  • BLM botanists, biologists, range management specialists and back country rangers conducted visual surveys of adjacent drainages and canyons to identify any other areas of concern.
  • A two-person BLM team, one having expertise in stratigraphy and the other in field mapping, has completed their survey and will produce a synthetic field map of the Little Valley Wash spills, including extent, relationship to the pipeline and terrace pits, and stratigraphic and depositional contexts.
Two certified petroleum engineering technicians and a natural resource specialist were brought in from other Utah BLM offices to conduct a complete inspection of the entire oilfield. 

The private company that operates the Upper Valley oil field has been very cooperative and is working with the BLM to determine best next steps.  The company has also hired an independent environmental firm and BLM is coordinating activities and the sampling program with them.  All data derived will be shared.  

Photos of Site 

  • Photos taken during initial assessment team visit, March 26, 2014  Click here


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