The president of Blue Stakes Utah, the "call before you dig" organization, says its records are sealed from the public regarding communications between Rocky Mountain Power and Chevron concerning the fence post suspected of causing the Salt Lake City oil spill.
Blue Stakes is a private non-profit organization created by and for utilities, said president Gary Hansen. As such, he can only release records by member request or with a subpoena.
photo by Dan Gorder
"Certainly we'll cooperate, but at the same time, we've also agreed to operators who fund the center that we will not provide information to third-parties without their approval," Hansen said.
The issue concerns a fence that Rocky Mountain Power says was installed in the early 1980s. One of those posts was either touching or within inches of the Chevron's pipeline, according to the Salt Lake City Fire Department. Due to charring on the pipe, investigators believe the fence post was somehow electrified and basically melted a quarter-size hole in the pipeline, which then spewed an estimated 33,000 gallons (correction 6/15/10 3 p.m.: this post originally used the incorrect units) of crude oil into Red Butte creek about 30 feet away. Precisely how the fence post was electrified--either lightning, the nearby transmission line, or something else--is still subject to investigation. Investigators say there is no evidence that suggests either sabotage or terrorism.
A Chevron representative commented briefly on the pipeline/fence post issue last night.
Chevron and Rocky Mountain Power are among 512 member utilities of Blue Stakes Utah. Hansen would not say when Chevron joined, but said Rocky Mountain was a founding member in 1974.
Hansen said the role of his organization is limited. He said state statute requires that "excavators"--which is basically anyone moving soil, including to install a fence post--must "call before they dig" (just dial 811). Blue Stakes then checks a database for utilities that have infrastructure in the area, alerts the operators of a pending dig who then come out to stake the location of the lines. Excavators are expected to use hand tools within 24 inches of any stakes line.
Whether 7-foot metal fence posts--which could act as lightning rods--are legally allowed to be placed either adjacent or within a few inches of a crude oil pipeline is beyond the purview of Blue Stakes, Hansen said.
"But certainly there may be some ordinances or guidelines from the utility," Hansen said. "As you get a building permit for different things, I'm sure there are some restrictions of how close."
The investigation continues into the cause of the spill now blamed for the deaths of at least 16 birds and counting (300 have been oiled and rescued), as well as fish. Fox13 is reporting today that oil has been detected in the ecologically sensitive Farmington Bay wetlands nature preserve of Great Salt Lake.